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National Heart Month

Heart disease such as Angina and Myocardial Infarction (heart attack) is usually caused by problems with the blood supply to the heart muscle itself. This fits in with the cardiovascular group of diseases that also include stroke and peripheral vascular disease. With any cardiovascular disease, prevention and early detection are key in reducing the risk of experiencing harmful effects of heart disease. It’s not surprising that the 9 simple actions to reduce the risk of heart disease sound familiar: they are the health messages we are most likely to hear for the good reason they have been shown to work. Regular check-ups at your GP practice can help detect if your blood pressure, blood sugars and blood lipids (fats) are controlled. Ensure your diet includes a daily intake of fruit and veg (five a day), minimise alcohol intake, and aim for your weight as well as your waist/ hip ratio to be within safe limits. Higher levels of stress and anxiety are also linked with worse heart health. It is always advisable to stop smoking. The final piece of advice is to take part in regular physical activity- this will help with weight management, reducing high blood pressure and control blood sugars as well as reducing stress. Other heart diseases such as heart failure also respond well to these actions.

Whether recovering from a heart attack, heart surgery or an episode of heart failure it is recommended that your programme of physical activity is designed for your individual needs. Some heart conditions and medications mean it is a harder to gauge and monitor effort and exertion. Other non-heart conditions such as back pain, arthritis and breathing problems may also mean exercises and activities need modifying. If activities and exercise plans fit in with your daily life and are things you enjoy and embrace doing, you are far more likely to do them regularly and make them a habit. Ideally, any exercises should support self-management and self-care of your condition to improve your quality of life as well as aiming for a full return to hobbies and work where applicable. It is very unusual for a person to have a heart condition that will not benefit from being more physically active- it may be that the rehabilitation needs to be done more gradually, but it is still well worth doing.

Because heart disease and stroke are both cardiovascular diseases there is a lot of overlap in the benefits of their rehabilitation and prevention. Following a regular programme such as Neurofit, Aquatic therapy or FES cycling not only improves movement, strength and balance but will also improve heart health. Following the heart health advice will also optimise recovery after a Stroke. A bespoke rehab programme for any condition should aim to get your heart exercising too.

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