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health feature

Okay so here goes. Here’s an outline of the 7 essential steps to give you the best chance of long life and good health

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Maintain healthy cholesterol levels

Too much saturated fat and trans fats can increase the amount of cholesterol in the blood which, over time, can lead to heart disease because too much ‘bad’ LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol builds up and narrows the walls of the coronary arteries to the heart.

HDL (high-density lipoprotein) ‘good’ cholesterol (found in foods like fruit, veg, oats and oily fish) helps remove ‘bad’ cholesterol from the blood and return surplus amounts to the liver.

As well as being a crucial factor in heart health, studies have found that high levels of HDL cholesterol may reduce the risk of some cancers. Plus, people with diabetes are more prone to having unhealthy cholesterol levels.

Maintain a healthy weight

The World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) says the evidence that being overweight increases the risk of cancer is stronger than ever. After not smoking, maintaining a healthy weight is the most important cancer prevention measure. Research shows fat cells release hormones such as oestrogen, which can increase the risk of certain cancers. Excess fat, particularly stored around the waist, can have a similar effect.

Being overweight can also significantly increase the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes. One of the easiest ways to check you’re a healthy weight is by measuring your body mass index (BMI), which should be between 18.5 and 24.9. (Visit

Keep blood pressure down

Eating too much salt can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure - because the body holds extra water to wash the salt away, which can increase pressure on blood vessel walls. Left untreated, high blood pressure can cause the heart to become enlarged and pump less effectively, possibly leading to heart failure.

High blood pressure is a big risk factor for strokes, too, and studies have also found that high blood pressure may sometimes lead to a greater risk of certain cancers.

Increasing physical activity, losing weight, reducing salt intake (particularly hidden salts in many types of bread and convenience foods, for instance), cutting down on alcohol and eating a balanced, healthy diet can all reduce blood pressure.

Regulate blood sugar

High blood glucose levels affect the walls of the arteries, making them more likely to develop fatty deposits and narrow, possibly leading to heart attacks. High glucose can occur when a person is diabetic, and type 2 diabetes is closely linked with being overweight and physically inactive.

Eat a healthy diet

A balanced diet is advised, with a good variety of vegetables and fruit - five a day is a good aim - as well as daily portions of wholegrain fibre and carbs such as potatoes, rice and wholegrain bread and pasta.

Dairy and protein-rich meat and eggs are important too but portions should be controlled, and two portions of oily fish a week is great for heart health. Food and drinks high in saturated and trans fats and/or sugar shouldn’t be consumed too often.

14 Life Begins 6 Be active

Being physically active provides long-term benefits for both the heart and general health, helping control weight and reduce blood pressure and cholesterol.

Being active in middle age can increase life expectancy by two years, the same benefit as giving up smoking, says the BHF.

Government guidelines recommend a total of 150 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity - which makes you feel warmer, breathe harder and makes your heart beat faster - each week. This can include everyday activities like brisk walking and gardening, as well as things like swimming or playing sport.

7 Don’t smoke

Smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack as people who have never smoked, warns the BHF. Smoking damages the lining of the arteries and narrows them, makes the heart beat faster, and blood more likely to clot.

Cancer Research UK says smoking accounts for one in four UK cancer deaths, and nearly a fifth of all cancer cases. It causes the majority of lung cancers, and increases the risk of more than 12 other types including cancers of the mouth, liver, pancreas, stomach, kidney, bladder, cervix and bowel.

For people with diabetes, smoking increases the risk of complications including cardiovascular disease, nerve, kidney and eye damage. (For help quitting smoking, visit

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