The 5 best ways to protect your heart

There are more than seven million people living with a heart or circulatory disease in the UK.  Here are our tips on leading a heart-healthy lifestyle.

Looking after your heart is key to a long and healthy life. And it's never too late to start making changes.

Raised cholesterol, an unhealthy diet, and high blood pressure are among the top three contributors to cardiovascular disease [1]. 

We share with you our five top tips for minimising your risk and keeping your cardiovascular health in shape. 

Five ways to protect your heart 

1. Eat heart-healthy foods 

Fuelling your body the right way is an easy first step to protect your heart and reduce your risk of heart-related illness. A healthy and balanced diet is a good place to start, but it is worth also considering how the food you eat affects your cholesterol.  

Foods that can lead to an increase in cholesterol include: 

  • Unhealthy fats – including ultra-processed foods, such as cakes and ice cream 
  • Meats – especially processed or red meats 
  • Coconut and palm oil [2] 

Although some foods can increase your cholesterol, others can also help to reduce your overall cholesterol levels.  

Foods that can lower your cholesterol include: 

  • Oily fish, like mackerel and salmon 
  • High-fibre foods such as wholegrains, nuts, and fruits and vegetables 
  • Drinks and yoghurts fortified with plant sterols and stanols 

Sterols and stanols help to reduce the absorption of cholesterol in the gut. 

According to the British Heart Foundation, in combination with a balanced diet, eating foods that provide you with 2-2.5g of plant sterols or stanols every day can have an additional cholesterol-lowering benefit [3].  

Healthy food companies, such as Benecol, specialise in plant stanols. Their foods (yoghurts, yoghurt drinks, and spreads) are fortified with plant stanols to reduce cholesterol and help support a healthy diet.  

2. Increase physical activity 

Increasing your physical activity doesn’t mean you have to sign up for a gym or run 10k every day. It could be as simple as going for a lunchtime stroll or taking the stairs instead of the lift.

Increasing your physical activity can help to improve your heart health by lowering your [4]: 

  • Blood pressure 
  • Cholesterol levels 
  • Resting heart rate  

The NHS recommends you do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week [5]. And if you monitor your steps, there have been studies showing that if you increase your steps by as little as 2k steps a day, you can improve heart health and reduce your risk of cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks [6]. 

3. Limit smoking and alcohol intake  

It’s common knowledge that both smoking and drinking alcohol can have a negative impact on your health. 

Smoking alone can narrow blood vessels and lead to several cardiovascular conditions, including [7]: 

  • Coronary heart disease – where the arteries narrow or become blocked by clots which can lead to a heart attack. 
  • Stroke – which is when there is reduced blood flow to part of the brain. 
  • Peripheral arterial disease – occurs when cells and tissues are deprived of oxygen, leading to reduced blood flow to the arms, legs, hands, and feet. 

Trying to reduce or quit smoking can be a difficult task, and some people are starting to use e-cigarettes (or vaping) to help them quit. A study from November 2019, funded by the British Heart Foundation, suggested that vaping may be less harmful to your blood vessels than smoking cigarettes 89]. However, more research is needed on the long-term impact of vaping and heart health. So, reducing and/or quitting both smoking and vaping would be the most beneficial path to take – the NHS has some great tips to help you quit.  

Similarly, alcohol can harm your heart health. Alcohol can raise your blood pressure and cause weight gain, increasing your risk of heart attacks. It is recommended that men and women should aim to drink no more than 14 units per week [9].  

4. Maintain a healthy BMI 

Maintaining a healthy weight and BMI helps to keep you healthy and reduce your risk of several health conditions.  

Being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart and circulatory disease, such as [10]: 

  • Heart attacks 
  • Strokes 
  • Vascular dementia  

The best way to maintain a healthy BMI is through diet and exercise. If you need to lose weight, the best way is through a calorie deficit (burning more calories than you consume).  

Managing your weight can be difficult but there is plenty of support. Your GP can advise you about losing weight safely, but there are also other useful services, such as local weight loss groups and resources – the British Heart Foundation have a whole hub of information.  

5. Know your risks 

Knowing whether you are at a higher risk of developing heart disease can help you to make simple lifestyle changes to aid prevention.  

There are a few ways to help you measure your risk of heart disease. One of which is measuring your heart age - the NHS has a helpful calculator that does exactly this. 

Alongside measuring your heart age, blood tests can also be a good way of measuring your risk. Check your cholesterol levels from home with our Heart Disease Risk Blood Test to help establish your risk of heart disease.


  1. Zhang, Y., Pletcher, M., Vittinghoff, E., Clemons, A., Jacobs, D., Allen, N., Alonso, A., Bellows, B., Oelsner, E., Zeki Al Hazzouri, A., Kazi, D., de Ferranti, S. and Moran, A., 2021. Association Between Cumulative Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol Exposure During Young Adulthood and Middle Age and Risk of Cardiovascular Events. JAMA Cardiology, 6(12), p.1406. 
  2. NHS. 2022. High cholesterol - How to lower your cholesterol. [online] [Accessed 9 September 2022]. 
  3. BHF. Six cholesterol-busting foods. 2022. [online] [Accessed 9 September 2022].
  4. Nystoriak, M. and Bhatnagar, A., 2018. Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise. Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine, 5. 
  5. NHS. 2022. Physical activity guidelines for adults aged 19 to 64. [online] [Accessed 9 September 2022]. 
  6. BHF. 2022. Take steps to cut cardiovascular risk. [online]  [Accessed 9 September 2022]. 
  7. CDC. 2022. Smoking and cardiovascular disease. [online] [Accessed 9 September 2022].
  8. BHF. 2022. Is vaping safe?. [online] [Accessed 9 September 2022]. 
  9. BHF. 2022. Effects of alcohol on your heart. [online] [Accessed 9 September 2022]. 
  10. BHF. 2022. Obesity. [online] [Accessed 9 September 2022]. 

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