Health tips for the heart in 2022

The new year is a popular time for planning ahead for a healthier future. A resolution towards a healthier lifestyle may benefit you in more ways than one. The benefits extend beyond general improvement of ‘heart health’ and have proven benefits in terms reducing the risk of developing heart rhythm abnormalities, such as atrial fibrillation. A healthier lifestyle also enhances success rates of atrial fibrillation treatment, including catheter ablation. 

When it comes to the health of your heart – whether maintaining or improving it – there are a series of very simple steps that you can take to ensure your 2022 is optimised for achieving the healthiest version of yourself. The following article outlines a number of resolutions that may influence risk of developing AF and improve outcomes of treatment of atrial fibrillation.

In a recent survey in Greater Manchester, close to half of the population expressed a wish to exercise more and eat more healthily. This is as good a time as any to start working in that direction.   Fortunately, the population of Manchester has the privilege of living in a city with one of the highest proportion of fitness facilities in the UK.

Exercise

Whether you have decided to exercise because you have atrial fibrillation or to improve your heart health in general (which may prevent future development of atrial fibrillation), the correct dose and type of exercise is an important consideration. 

Confidence is key in patients who have a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation. The British Heart Foundation guidelines recommend a tailored approach to exercise in patients with atrial fibrillation.  In general terms, moderate intensity exercise with a gradual increases in exercise levels represent an effective means of increasing fitness levels. While the optimal exercise programme remains to be defined, aerobic interval training has demonstrated promising results. 

When considering modification of atrial fibrillation risk in the long term, the dose of exercise is important. On the one hand, low levels of exercise increase the risk of atrial fibrillation while on the other, exercising at the level of an endurance athlete may also increase the risk of atrial fibrillation. 

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to exercise in relation to atrial fibrillation. Of note however, the specific type of exercise is a less important consideration than a resolution to undertake exercise. Each individual has certain abilities, strengths and weaknesses and experiences different stresses on their bodies. The best approach is to find a type of exercise that you enjoy – this could be walking, jogging, swimming, bike riding, etc.

Overall, there is good news for those who have been avoiding exercise because they don’t think they have enough time – even 10 minutes a day can improve your cardiovascular fitness and benefit you greatly in terms of heart health.

Diet 

Diet, weight loss and exercise are all closely interrelated. A healthy and balanced diet, combined with regular exercise can have a very positive impact on your heart health. If you set a goal of healthy eating and regular exercise, losing weight is often a natural by-product. 

Obesity is associated with an increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation. Obesity also results in poorer outcomes in patients who already have a diagnosis of atrial fibrillation. There are many apps for your phone or tablet that can help you track your food intake and exercise. Whether you have years of unhealthy eating under your belt or you simply want to fine-tune your diet, here are eight heart-healthy diet tips. Once you know which foods to eat more of and which foods to limit, you will be on your way toward a heart-healthy diet.

Remove bad habits 

Alcohol and smoking can have serious implications for the health of your heart. Alcohol consumption is a particularly important consideration in relation to atrial fibrillation and indeed other heart rhythm abnormalities. Binge drinking is a well-recognised trigger for atrial fibrillation, so much so that the term ‘holiday heart’ has been coined to refer to atrial fibrillation triggered by excess alcohol. It is important to recognise that the risk of atrial fibrillation is not restricted to binge drinking. Higher daily alcohol consumption is also associated with a higher risk of atrial fibrillation. In addition to reducing risk of atrial fibrillation, drinking less alcohol help you lose weight, by reducing the empty calories that you consume. The important point to remember is that even small changes can lead to positive outcomes when it comes to the health of your heart.  

Overall, when you see an atrial fibrillation specialist, a comprehensive treatment strategy may involve consideration of  a procedures to treat atrial fibrillation (catheter ablation), medications and lifestyle measures to maximise the chances of success of these treatments.