February is National Heart Month making it the perfect time to look at keeping our hearts as healthy as we can.
A new study published this year suggested that some of the facts around alcohol and heart health may not match up with commonly held beliefs. With a lot of conflicting information out there, it’s time to separate some of the myths from the facts and discover the best ways to really keep our hearts healthy.
A glass of red wine is good for the heart
Unfortunately, this one isn’t entirely true. The British Heart Foundation funded research published in 2018 that found the risks outweighed the benefits of drinking alcohol.  It’s better to get the antioxidants from your diet rather than relying on red wine.
A recent study published this year suggested that even moderate drinking of 1.2 drinks a day was associated with an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation (where your heart beats in an abnormal rhythm). 
Drinking alcohol is a personal choice but if you do drink, remember to keep your drinking below the recommended 14 units a week. This should be spread across 3 or more days if possible, with days off from drinking in the week too. This should help to keep the health risks of alcohol to a low level. 
Chocolate is great for the heart
Sorry chocolate lovers, this one isn’t quite true either. While dark chocolate has been shown to have some benefits, it only really applies to good quality dark chocolate, that isn’t loaded with sugar or fat, and is at least 70% cocoa solids. 
Even then, the British Heart Foundation don’t think the evidence for the benefits of eating dark chocolate is really strong enough to be able to recommend it for health reasons. 
Eat chocolate if you enjoy it – as part of a healthy diet, of course – but perhaps don’t expect many benefits from it. Other than the enjoyment of eating it.
Yoga is great for heart health
Sort of. While yoga isn’t conclusively proven to directly improve heart health, a study done in 2020 suggested that it may be beneficial for those with atrial fibrillation.  It is, however, proven to help with some of the symptoms that can affect heart health such as stress, anxiety, and depression. 
It’s a great exercise for developing strength, balance, flexibility, and coordination, making it a beneficial exercise for many.
A small serving of nuts can help lower your risk of cardiovascular disease
Yes! A study found that eating a portion of nuts twice a week or more was associated with a 17% lower risk of cardiovascular-related death. 
Unsalted, fresh nuts are the best. Salted, roasted, or dry roasted may not bring the same benefits. And remember, as with everything, moderation is key.
Sitting for long periods of time is bad for us
True (unless you’re a wheelchair user)! It’s been suggested that sitting for long periods can slow the metabolism, making it harder for our bodies to regulate blood sugar, blood pressure, and break down body fat. 
We should all be aiming to do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, but if it’s been a while then start small and work your way up to it. 
If you find moving difficult or think you may need some extra help getting around, consider if you may need a mobility aid. A walking stick, a walking frame or a rollator could be just the thing to help you get on your feet again.
Gum disease can raise your risk of heart disease
True, gum disease can increase your risk of getting health complications like heart disease, which is why it’s critical to maintain good oral hygiene. 
It’s recommended that you brush your teeth twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and floss (or use an interdental brush) daily. 
Eating oily fish is good for heart health
This one is true. Oily fish are high in long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, it’s these that can help to prevent heart disease. The NHS recommends that we eat two portions of fish a week, including one portion of oily fish like salmon, sardines, or mackerel.
Don’t go overboard though, as more than two portions of oily fish a week isn’t recommended if you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, or want to become pregnant one day. 
High blood pressure can affect the heart
True. To make things a little harder, high blood pressure often doesn’t have any symptoms. If left untreated though it can lead to heart disease, heart attacks, and heart failure, among other serious illnesses.
If you have any worries, it’s important to get your blood pressure checked out. You can also get a blood pressure monitor to have at home, so you can keep an eye on it if your blood pressure is a concern.
Always seek medical advice if you think you have a problem with your blood pressure.
Looking after your heart essentially comes down to taking care of yourself and your body in the best way that you can:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Managing stress
- Maintaining good oral hygiene
- Keeping an eye on your blood pressure
If you ever have any concerns or worries about your heart health, please speak to your doctor for help and support. You may also want to check out the NHS website for tips, tools and advice on looking after yourself or visit the British Heart Foundation for support and advice on all things heart health related.