20th October 2023
In this week’s blog, we are thinking about how to overcome the challenges of maintaining a healthy
heart within our increasingly busy lives.
Let’s be honest: we all know what we should be doing to keep ourselves healthy. The benefits of a
balanced diet and a regular exercise regime have been discussed in both academic and media
publications for many years, and more recently promotion of a lifestyle that prioritises physical and
mental wellbeing has become a common hook for social media influencers. But we also know that
people have so much going on in their day-to-day lives that it can be difficult to sustain the healthy
habits in which we are so well-versed, and we are all (HCPs and patients alike) occasionally guilty of
using our hectic schedules as excuse to indulge our bad habits.
Unfortunately, the human heart isn’t quite as forgiving as our stretchy tracksuit bottoms, and so
supporting patients to make healthier choices despite the challenges they may face is increasingly
important. Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is the cause of 1 in 4 deaths in England (The King’s Fund,
2022), is a risk factor for other long-term conditions, and, crucially, is largely preventable. Why then
is it still so prevalent? Let’s take a closer look at the aspects of modern life that might be affecting
our heart health:
I’m not sure any of us can say we haven’t been affected by stress at some point in our adult lives.
Work, relationships, parenting, and money are just a few of things we might worry about on a daily
basis, and increased stress can lead to unhealthy lifestyle habits such as overeating or smoking.
Furthermore, acute periods of stress can cause raised blood pressure (hypertension) which adds to
the strain on the heart.
It’s very easy to reach for a ready meal or quick snack when time is limited, but studies have
identified links between ultra-processed food and CVD (British Nutrition Foundation, n.d.), as these
foods contain high levels of salt, sugar, and often, saturated fats. Combined with increasingly
sedentary and technology-reliant lifestyles – think about all the times you have booked an Uber
rather than walking or sent a WhatsApp rather than popping to see someone – our quest to save
time can actually be costing us years in later life.
Cost of living
We know the cost of living is rising and data suggests that many adults in Great Britain are having
to spend more money on their regular food shop, and consequently are buying less food (Office for
National Statistics, 2023). Measures such as choosing cheaper options like pasta or frozen food over
more costly fresh vegetables and protein-rich foods can contribute to poor nutrition, which in turn
can lead to weight gain and – you guessed it – poorer heart health.
How can healthcare professionals help patients overcome these challenges?
We can see that many of the challenges to maintaining a healthy heart are related to lifestyle, and
so HCPs can be invaluable in signposting patients to information, advice, and guidance that can
help them to develop healthier behaviours. Such signposting may include:
- smoking cessation services
- local weight-loss groups (which may be available for free to patients whose BMI is over a certain threshold)
- exercise classes and subsidised gym memberships
- financial advice and support (such as https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/)
- online resources such 5 Steps to mental wellbeing and The NHS Eatwell guide
- patient advice websites such as British Heart Foundation
If you would like to develop your skills in supporting patients to overcome the challenges associated
with maintaining a healthy heart, along with increasing your knowledge around CVD diagnosis and
management, have a look at our range of CVD courses here.
British Nutrition Foundation (n.d). Studies suggest link between ‘ultra-processed’ foods,
cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. British Nutrition Foundation. Retrieved 13/09/23
The King’s Fund (2022). Cardiovascular Disease in England: supporting leaders to take action. The
King’s Fund. Retrieved 13/09/23 from https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/publications/cardiovascular-
Office for National Statistics (2023). Cost of living insights: Food. Office for National Statistics.
Retrieved 13/09/23 from