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Last week, individuals were encouraged to know their cholesterol and blood pressure numbers as well as they know their PIN numbers.

Heart health

These numbers help to flag early warning signs of cardiovascular disease, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. In total, 40 health organisations have teamed up to encourage people to go for routine NHS health checks, as doctors have been called up for not indentifying the signs a lot earlier.

Poor heart health can lead to heart failure, kidney disease, arterial diseases and dementia. According to Public Health England, in the UK, somebody dies every four minutes of cardiovascular disease. Often, there are few or no symptoms, which is why the NHS is urging people over the age of 40 to partake in regular tests.

 Philippa Hobson, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, told FitPro, “Today in the UK, around seven million people are living with heart and circulatory disease. It’s still the world’s biggest killer and responsible for one in four deaths. Most people think heart and circulatory diseases, particularly heart attacks and strokes, only affect people in old age. This is not the case.”

Hobson continued, “The narrowing of our arteries with fatty substances, which can eventually lead to heart attacks and strokes, can start during our twenties and thirties. Often, without developing symptoms, people go through life without thinking they’re at risk. By the time we get to our fifties and sixties, a lot of the damage may already be done. A sudden heart attack or stroke is often the first sign that someone has an underlying heart and circulatory disease.”

According to the British Heart Foundation, there are currently seven million people living with undiagnosed high blood pressure in the UK. Hobson calls upon personal trainers to help change this, and said, “PTs have a great opportunity to encourage clients to get their numbers checked, alongside giving advice on diet and exercise. It’s not enough to be fit and eat well; if someone has hidden underlying health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure, they are still at high risk of having a devastating heart attack or stroke.”

The British Heart Foundation is currently funding around 1,000 research projects worth £100 million to find better ways to prevent and treat the world’s biggest killers and their risk factors. From babies born with life-threatening heart problems, to finding new treatments for stroke, heart failure and vascular dementia, every pound raised is one step closer to a world without the heartbreak caused by heart and circulatory disease.

FitPro put some questions to our resident dietitian, Linia Patel, in relation to this topic.

FitPro: How can trainers and their clients effectively keep their heart healthy?

Linia Patel: Screen patients. Initial contact with clients should involve finding out if they are ‘fit’ enough to train. This means finding out some medical and health history as well as knowing their numbers in terms of BMI, body fat, blood pressure, and other important blood indices such as cholesterol, particularly if they have a family history of heart disease.

Have the important conversations in a non-judgemental way. It’s very important for people to know their numbers, but even more important to know what they mean and what to do about it. Raise the issue of weight and lifestyle. Be direct but not judgemental. Be factual but compassionate, or ensure you have strong relationships with GPs and dietitians who you can refer clients to.

FP:  To help achieve this, what types of food should be eaten in moderation?

LP: A heart-healthy diet is a balanced diet. It’s generally accepted that the Mediterranean diet is an example of a heart-healthy diet. However, now living in Italy for my PhD, I have first-hand experience that it’s not just the diet, it’s the lifestyle. It’s a diet consisting of plant-based foods, whole grains, flavourful herbs and spices, fish and seafood a couple of times a week, poultry, eggs, cheese in moderation, while sweet treats and red meat are consumed in portion-controlled amounts. It’s also about being active, managing your weight and stress levels, and having the odd siesta now and again!

FP: Do you think the public have been informed enough about the risks of high blood pressure and cholesterol?

LP: For years, public health bodies have been driving home the need to reduce salt consumption – and this campaign is linked to reducing blood pressure, which is a major driver in heart disease and stroke. The cholesterol message is maybe a little confusing for the public and many don’t actually understand what their numbers mean. It’s not all about total cholesterol. Ratios of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ cholesterol are really important to understand.

 For more information on heart health, visit the British Heart Foundation: