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Self Care for a Healthy Heart

September is Irish Heart Month and this year the campaign is focusing upon stroke prevention. Over 2,000 people under the age of 65 have a stroke each year, but 80% of premature strokes are preventable.

By making small changes to their lifestyle, patients can reduce their chances of having a stroke now and in the future.

Community pharmacists are ideally placed to offer advice and guidance on self-care to ensure a healthy heart. The vast majority of people believe in the importance of self-care and personal responsibility — pharmacists are able to help patients understand the choices available to them.

These small steps or lifestyle changes may help to reduce blood pressure and can sometimes bring blood pressure that is mildly high to a normal level.

Blood pressure level
The first step to improving blood pressure is to know it. Advise patients to regularly have their blood pressure checked.

Aim for a healthy weight.

Keep weight at a level that is right for their height and build is important. For those who are overweight, even losing 10% of excess weight can help lower blood pressure.

Diet
It is the sodium in salt which causes the problems associated with high blood pressure. All types of salt, including sea salt, iodised salt, garlic salt and onion salt all contain sodium and so they have the same effect on health as common table salt.

To make sure that their blood pressure stays at a healthy level, advise patients to cut down – or cut out – adding salt to their food, and eat less processed foods which are high in salt.

Drink less alcohol
Drinking a lot of alcohol can increase blood pressure and may damage the liver and heart. Small amounts of alcohol may provide some protection against heart disease, but there is not enough evidence to recommend including alcohol as part of a heart healthy diet.

Advise patients to not drink more than the recommended upper limits: 17 standard drinks (SD) a week for men and 11 standard drinks a week for women.

Embrace activity
Everyone needs to be exercising at a moderate intensity for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Increasing activities to 60 minutes brings even greater health benefits. Activities such as walking, cycling, swimming and dancing are all excellent and the 30 – 60 minutes can be spread over two to three sessions in the day.

Avoid other risk factors
The more cardiovascular risk factors someone has, the greater the urgency in getting their blood pressure controlled. This is also the case for those with a history of a heart attack or stroke.

Smoking
Smoking and high blood pressure are two serious factors that can cause a heart attack or stroke.

Advise all smokers on the benefits to kicking the habit and direct them to the plethora of NRT products on offer in the pharmacy.

People to choose larger sizes or multiple amounts of unhealthy food and drinks; 74 per cent support removing sweets and other unhealthy products from end of aisles and checkouts in supermarkets, and 71 per cent support a ban on the marketing and promotion of unhealthy food and drinks to under 18s.

Tackling Obesity
The Irish Heart Foundation has urged the Irish Government to follow UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s lead through tough new actions to tackle obesity.

The need for decisive action has been made more urgent than ever by evidence that people living with obesity are at increased risk of severe disease if they contract Covid-19.

The Irish Heart Foundation said there was clear evidence that measures to curb junk food marketing that feature in the UK’s new obesity strategy such as strict advertising restrictions on broadcast media and online, along with banning promotions such as buy-one-get-one-free, had a crucial role to play in combating our obesity crisis.

However, the Irish Heart Foundation said that the Irish Government should now look at going even further than their UK counterparts, through a range of additional actions such as mandatory reformulation of unhealthy food and beverages, an extension of the sugarsweetened drink tax to items such as confectionery and an ambitious programme to create a healthier built environment.

“It’s clear that being overweight or obese puts people at greater risk of serious illness or death from COVID-19. The more successful we are in limiting the impact of the virus the quicker we will be able to return to some sort of normality, so the case for decisive action on obesity has never been more compelling,” said Irish Heart Foundation Head of Advocacy, Chris Macey.

“While our primary focus has been on tackling childhood obesity – which the State’s own research estimates will result in the premature deaths of over 85,000 of this generation of children on the island of Ireland – it’s clear that a lot more should also be done to protect adults, 61 per cent of whom are living with overweight or obesity.”

Mr Macey said that in addition to reducing exposure to junk food marketing, reformulation and portion size control are among the measures that can have the biggest effect in reducing high levels of fat, sugar, and salt in
people’s diets.

Mr Macey added that there was strong public support for many important measures to tackle obesity according to polls carried out for the Irish Heart Foundation by Ipsos MRBI, which found that: 75 per cent of adults support a ban on price promotions encouraging people to choose larger sizes or multiple amounts of unhealthy food and drinks; 74 per cent support removing sweets and other unhealthy products from end of aisles and checkouts in supermarkets, and 71 per cent support a ban on the marketing and promotion of unhealthy food and drinks to under 18s.

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