The heart of the matter

24 February 2016

As a Bupa cardiology clinical adviser and practicing NHS GP, Dr Yassir Javaid regularly sees how work-related stress can lead to bad diet and exercise habits. These are two of the main risks for poor heart health.

We asked Dr Javaid for his advice to help you overcome the bad habits of a busy lifestyle.

High stress, irregular hours and always being on call are facts of life for many small business owners. Unfortunately, these and poor diet and sedentary lifestyle often go hand in hand, which is bad news for your heart. You’re more likely to develop heart disease if you smoke, have excessive saturated fat, salt and sugar in your diet, and you don’t exercise regularly.1

Unless you’re among the minority of people who have a genetic predisposition to significantly increased risk of heart attack, most of your risk is actually due to what we call modifiable risk factors. Smoking, cholesterol, blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are four of the big ones. But the good news is that ‘modifiable' means 'factors you can do something about'.

Giving up smoking is the best thing you can do for your heart.2 After giving up smoking for one year, your risk of heart disease is lowered by 50% compared to when you were still smoking. If you stop smoking before the age of 50 you also decrease the risk of dying from smoking related diseases by 50%.3

As for the other risk factors, it’s mostly about exercise, diet and weight. These are all to do with lifestyle and no doubt nothing you won’t have heard before. With a busy work-life, it can be hard to make lasting changes, but a message I like to give to patients is that any amount of exercise is better than none. And if you’re over-65, research has shown that right amounts of gentle exercise such as easy walking or even just wandering around when on the phone can be as effective as more intensive exercise4. Exercise is also a great stress buster5 so if you can swap the post-work drink for a session at the gym, you’ll be combining a mental wind-down with a healthy activity.

Bupa can help, too, whether it’s healthy eating advice or a health assessment to help you take stock of your wellbeing.

Break it down into manageable goals, and those lifestyle changes to keep your heart healthy might not be as daunting as you think.

Dr Yassir Javaid is a Bupa cardiology clinical adviser.

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  1. Epidemiology of coronary heart disease. PatientPlus.

  2. British Heart Foundation

  3. Smoke-free Living: Benefits & Milestones, American Heart Association

  4. Evidence to Support Including Lifestyle Light-Intensity Recommendations in Physical Activity Guidelines for Older Adults. American Journal of Health Promotion: May/June 2015.

  5. Stress Management Society: Exercise