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Health and fitness tips for Heart Awareness Month from The Life Coach

PUBLISHED: 21:37 21 February 2017 | UPDATED: 21:37 21 February 2017

Exercise and diet are the keys to a healthy heart (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto/all5)

Exercise and diet are the keys to a healthy heart (Photo: Getty Images/iStockphoto/all5)

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It's Heart Awareness Month, so what better time to start thinking about how you look after your ticker? Here, the Life Coach, Ben Short, offers his advice on the small changes that can make a big difference

Originally published in Surrey Life magazine February 2017

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IT’S easy to forget about something when you can’t see it and for many people that is especially true of their heart. Some men will proudly show off toned biceps from their gym workout but they never set foot on a running machine. They might look strong, but their heart won’t be. Even if they are pumping iron, they should spend 10 per cent of their time in the gym on a cardiovascular machine, such a running or step machine or static bike.

The heart is like any other muscle in your body - it needs a regular workout. Any form of exercise that raises your heart rate for at least 50 minutes, three times a week, will have positive benefits. That can be running and jogging, a dance or exercise class, or brisk walking. But the key here is to exercise at different intensities because the body is very clever. If you do the same exercise at the same level every week it will get used to it and the benefits to the heart will plateau.

If you want to get serious, invest in a heart rate monitor. Test your heart rate before you start exercising. A healthy resting rate should be between 50 to 80 beats per minute. Then test it again two minutes after you have finished exercising. The closer this matches your resting state, the fitter your heart is becoming.

Well-balanced diet

As well as cardiovascular exercise, the other big factor in maintaining a healthy heart is having a well-balanced diet, low in cholesterol. If you are aged between 40 and 75 you can have a free cholesterol test at your GP practice, but these days even the supermarkets are offering free cholesterol checks. A complete cholesterol test will show the types of fats in your blood – I call them The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.

The good…

These are called High Density Lipoproteins and for a healthy heart you should ensure you have plenty in your diet. They can be found in oily fish, such as kippers, mackerel and fresh tuna. If you are vegetarian then try avocados and olives. But if none of these foods appeal, then increase your good fats by taking Omega 3 or fish oil supplements.

The bad…

These are saturated fats called Low Density Lipoproteins found in processed foods and animal fat products, such as cream, cheese and butter. Swap butter for olive oil, trim the fat off bacon before grilling and switch whole milk for low-fat milk or full-fat cheese for half-fat versions.

...and the ugly!

These are called triglycerides and you are likely to have high levels of these if you smoke, drink too much alcohol or have a low-fibre diet. The amazing thing about triglycerides is they stick to fibre, so if you want to reduce these ugly fats then eat more fibre – wholemeal bread instead of white, eat a high-fibre breakfast like porridge oats, or try potatoes with their skins on.

The ugly fats will stick to the fibre and naturally pass out of the body when you visit the toilet. Of course, stopping smoking and reducing alcohol intake are also highly recommended.

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Ben Short is an exercise physiologist and health adviser at Spire Gatwick Park Hospital in Horley (see spirehealthcare.com/gatwickpark). He is also a personal trainer, with clients across Surrey, and head coach for the Horley Harriers

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