Doctor’s six steps to a post-lockdown healthy heart

The Covid pandemic has been bad for our hearts, says a leading cardiologist, and we need to get active again.

Dr Scott Murray, a former President of the British Association for Cardiovascular Prevention and Rehabilitation (BACPR) and a Consultant Cardiologist at Wirral University Teaching Hospital, Arrowe Park, says the disease has had an impact on our hearts in a number of ways.

Dr Murray said, “Covid has not been good for our hearts for a number of reasons. The strain the global coronavirus pandemic has put on NHS waiting times is reaching crisis point.

“Statistics show that 65% of people in the UK have felt more stressed since the Covid restrictions began in March last year. Stress can lead to a rise in blood pressure and can increase your risk of heart disease.

“Being in lockdown for so long – and worried about going out – has also led to an increasing number of people having a more sedentary lifestyle.

“Those that have had Covid may feel too anxious, or tired, to start exercising again.

“The pandemic has also promoted a new way of thinking, ‘stay at home and everything will be ok,’ and whilst that was necessary for a period, it is important that we get back outdoors to an active lifestyle.

“The impact of long Covid is still unknown, but approximately one in ten of us continues to experience symptoms, attributed to COVID-19, beyond 12 weeks.

“If any of these factors resonate with you, or perhaps you have a family history of heart disease, then you may have been unwittingly increasing your cardiovascular risk and it might be time to think about putting some new habits in place.”

In June, Dr Murray will open Venturi Cardiology, the North West region’s first independent healthy heart clinic in Birchwood, Warrington. The state-of-the-art heart screening clinic will make world-class heart care accessible, affordable and more personalised with fast-track availability to expert consultants.

Operating as an independent clinic, Venturi is looking to collaborate with the NHS to offer its services through GPs and hospitals, ensuring that GPs can refer patients with any cardiac risk or symptoms on to them.

Heart disease is not contagious in the same way Covid-19 has proved to be, but it is certainly as deadly. Heart and circulatory disease account for over one quarter of all deaths in the UK, that’s one death every three minutes.

“Every year, 44,000 people under the age of 75 will die from heart disease and the North West has one of the highest rates in the country,” said Dr Murray. 

“The only way to get an accurate picture of your heart health is to have a scan of your heart. In the same way women routinely have a mammogram, we want heart tests to be routinely available, accessible and affordable to those that need them.

“The calcium score test, which we are offering patients, is non-invasive, quick and pain free. It is one of the most accurate ways to get a picture of any disease in the arteries and any fat accumulating around your heart.”

Here, Dr Murray gives six tips to combat heart disease as we come out of lockdown:

  1. Avoid comfort foods

High in processed carbohydrates and fats, salt and sugar, comfort foods raise our blood sugar, bloods fats and our insulin levels, which can then inflame the artery walls.

  1. Stay active

Try to do something every day that gets you moving and stimulating the muscles. Higher intensity training is great but if you can’t do this or are working from home, sitting for long periods, why not make calls whilst walking round the house or outside. This is a good way to get some well needed vitamin D.

  1. Have alcohol free days

Drinking can cause blood pressure spikes and a weakened immune system – both risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

  1. Turn your emails/social media off as much as you can.

Stress is a big contributor to high blood pressure which is bad for your heart.

  1. Don’t snack

Snacking junk or sweets can cause blood sugar levels to spike, negatively impacting on how the kidneys manage blood pressure.

  1. Feed your gut

Eating fibre rich foods such as unrefined whole grains, beans, whole nuts and colourful vegetables such as carrots, broccoli, beetroot and celery, fills you up and can also lower cholesterol and blood pressure, again helping prevent heart disease.

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