Maintaining a healthy heart: advice from a top cardiologist

Looking after your heart is critical not only for a long and healthy life but also for your overall well-being.


Adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle can significantly reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, keeping you at your very best and able to do the things you love, with those you love. Below, Professor Stephen Brecker, cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare in London, offers his expert advice on how to maintain a healthy heart.

Do you know your risks?
The biggest challenge to heart disease is that the causes often have no symptoms. They may include high cholesterol, high blood pressure or an undetected heart problem.

It is important to acknowledge these often-hidden risks, including potential genetic factors. Ashkenazi Jews may have a risk of high cholesterol due to a common genetic disorder called familial hypercholesterolemia (FH). FH can cause significantly high levels of cholesterol to accumulate in the blood, increasing the risk of heart disease, heart attack and stroke. There is little awareness of FH among Ashkenazi Jews despite an incidence that is two to five times higher than in the general population.

Beyond this, there are several familial conditions that may increase your risk of a cardiac event. And while you can’t change your family history, you can reduce your risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases through the tips in this article.

Cholesterol is a fatty substance in your blood. It’s essential for life, but high levels of cholesterol block blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart problems and stroke.

High cholesterol is often genetic, but can be exacerbated by eating fatty food, not exercising enough, being overweight, smoking and drinking alcohol excessively. Your doctor can take a simple blood test to check cholesterol levels and advise a plan to get things back on track .
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is common and related to the resistance to blood flow in your arteries. Professor Brecker explains that if blood pressure measurements are over 140/90 mmHg, this is considered too high.

Often, high blood pressure causes no symptoms but increases the chance of heart attack or stroke. Your blood pressure levels can differ during the day, so you should check your blood pressure two to three times a week at different times, to be able to gauge whether your measurements are within normal range. Wearing a 24-hour blood pressure monitor is often the most useful way to get a true assessment of your body’s average blood pressure.

Heart disease is still the number one cause of death across the world, and this is likely to remain the case. Despite this, cardiovascular disease is often preventable. Professor Brecker has provided five tips to help maintain a healthy heart:

Know your numbers and your family history

Checking your cholesterol levels and having your blood pressure measured can indicate how healthy your heart is. If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, you can make lifestyle changes to help bring your numbers back down to a normal level. If required, effective medications with low risk of side effects are available. Talking to your doctor about your family history can also inform your risk and support appropriate changes.

Eat a balanced diet

Professor Brecker emphasises the importance of a balanced diet to keep your heart healthy. Nutrient-rich foods such as vitamin- and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fibre, and healthy fats like omega-3 and unsaturated fats support heart health. Research has shown that processed foods and foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fats can lead to heart disease. By opting for heart-healthy food and using cooking methods such as grilling, baking or steaming, you can decrease your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Time to get active

Regular physical exercise is crucial to maintaining a healthy heart. Roughly 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week will improve cardiovascular fitness and health. Regular exercise helps control weight, lowers blood pressure and improves cholesterol levels — all reducing the risk of heart disease alongside other health benefits. Finding activities you enjoy makes it easier to include them in your regular routine.

Maintain a healthy weight

Excess weight puts strain on the heart and increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Maintaining a healthy weight through eating well and exercising regularly will help keep blood pressure levels within normal range and lower cholesterol levels. If you are overweight, even modest weight loss can have significant benefits for your heart health. Focus on making sustainable changes to your eating habits and set realistic goals.

Managing stress levels

Chronic stress can harm your cardiovascular wellness. Finding healthy ways to cope with stress can positively impact your heart health. Exercising regularly and doing the things you enjoy (they need not be mutually exclusive) can help alleviate stress. Managing stress depends on making changes to your life, recognising that stress can be managed and seeking advice, support and assistance.

Professor Stephen Brecker (MD, FRCP, FESC, FACC) is an expert in general and interventional cardiology and is now working as a cardiologist at Mayo Clinic Healthcare in London. He is Professor of cardiology at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. He has interests in heart valve disease, coronary artery disease, hypertension, heart muscle disease and the cardiological interface with stroke. He has been an active researcher and innovator throughout his career and this led to a medical device bearing his name, the Brecker Wire, which is used around the world every day in heart surgery. He has over 200 publications including peerreview papers, book chapters, editorials and books.

mayo clinic healthcare, london

Professor Brecker is delighted to have joined Mayo Clinic Healthcare in London, a unique gateway in the UK to Mayo Clinic and its experts. Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, USA is ranked the number one hospital in the USA by US News and World Report and the world’s best hospital by Newsweek.

Mayo Clinic Healthcare, in Portland Place London, provides a comprehensive, integrated and streamlined approach to clinical assessment, thorough investigations and a clear management plan. It is the front door to Mayo Clinic and over 4,000 physicians across every speciality. Mayo Clinic Healthcare cardiologists offer a wealth of expertise and advanced diagnostics testing to ensure a clear understanding of your condition, which is vital to tailoring effective treatments to you.

As a patient, your diagnostic process will begin with a consultation with a registered nurse, who will go over your health history and administer an electrocardiogram. On the same day, you will then see a cardiologist with expertise in your condition. Based on your exam, your cardiologist may request more tests to understand your specific condition and needs.
Learn more about Mayo’s state-of-the-art diagnostic services at or call 020 7871 2575.

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