Heart health

Everyday habits for healthier hearts

Heart disease is one the world’s greatest killers at 17.1 million lives a year, according to WHO statistics, and becomes more dangerous once people get past 45.

Thirty minutes exercise a day is a good habit to develop for a healthier heart, but it isn’t the only one. Experts also recommend controlling stress, managing high cholesterol and understanding your heart’s resting and active rates.

According to Karin Richards, director of the exercise science and wellness management program at University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, USA, there are four good habits anyone concerned about heart health should develop.

Four Everyday Cardio-Protective Habits

These are the four basic habits that Mrs Fitzgerald suggests everyone should try to develop to improve their heart health:

Exercise regularly, for at least 30 minutes a day.
Become familiar with your heart rate.
Take steps to reduce stress.
Control high cholesterol levels.
Exercise Regularly for 30 Minutes

Mrs Richards recommends finding 20-30 minutes a day for exercise to get the heart pumping – running, walking, swimming, jogging or a brisk game of tennis.

Another exercise expert, Dr John Quindry, director of Auburn University’s Cardioprotection Research Laboratory, in Auburn, Alabama, USA, says there is no need to join a gym and struggle to do an hour-long session on the machines.

Gauge Exercise Intensity with the Sing/Talk Test

How do you know if you’re exercising briskly enough to do your heart good? Mrs Richards suggests the sing/talk test.

If you can talk without being breathless, your pace is meeting your target heart rate. If you can’t catch your breath to talk, your exercise intensity is too great and you should slacken off a bit.

On the other hand, if you can sing while you’re exercising, it’s clearly not vigorous enough!

Know Your Resting and Target Heart Rates

In order to understand whether exercise is helping your heart, you need to know both your resting heart rate and your target heart rate, Mrs Richards says.

Resting Heart Rate: Find your resting heart rate in the morning before getting out of bed. With your index and middle finger on the radial artery on the wrist or at the carotid artery in your neck, count how many beats occur within 60 seconds. Do this over three days, to get an average. A normal resting heart rate for adults is 60-100 beats per minute. You should consult a doctor if your resting heart rate is consistently outside this range.

Target Heart Rate: This is the rate which enables a person’s heart and lungs to receive the most benefit from a workout. It will vary with age, but is approximately 220 minus your age. When exercising, you should aim to reach 85 per cent of the target heart rate.