Why it's important to look after your cardiovascular health

10 January 2022

Up to 80% of deaths caused by cardiovascular disease are preventablei

Your cardiovascular system carries oxygen and nutrients in the blood to all your bodily systems and your cells depend on it to run normally. So it is important to look after your cardiovascular system with exercise, a healthy diet and controlled blood pressure and cholesterol.

But there are lots of things that can go wrong with your cardiovascular system. Factors that increase your risk of cardiovascular disease include:

  • Genetics - such as a family history of heart disease or being from a BAME background;
  • Age - you're much more likely to have cardiovascular issues after the age of 65;
  • And, last but not least, lifestyle - smoking, drinking too much alcohol, and being overweight all boost your chances of developing a cardiovascular condition.

With heart and circulatory problems causing some 160,000 deaths every year in the UKii, the message is clear: it pays to look after your blood by making healthy lifestyle choices such as exercising and avoiding salt and fatty foods.

But it's also vital to get your cardiovascular health checked regularly, as many conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol often have no noticeable symptoms - until it's too late.

Common cardiovascular conditions

Cardiovascular disease is a general term for conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels, including coronary heart disease, which was the single biggest cause of death for both men and women around the world in 2019ii.

Fact or fiction?

Cardiac arrest and heart attack are the same thing. According to the British Heart Foundation, a heart attack occurs when one of the coronary arteries becomes blocked and the heart muscle can't get its vital blood and oxygen supply.

A cardiac arrest, on the other hand, is when a person's heart stops pumping blood around their body. However, a heart attack can lead to cardiac arrest, and in both cases the person concerned will require emergency medical attentioniii.

In the UK alone, cardiovascular disease affects some 7 million people, according to the NHSiv. So, let's take a closer look at two extremely common cardiovascular conditions that can quickly become life threatening unless managed properly.

High blood pressure

Around one in three adults in the UK has high blood pressure, or hypertension, according to the charity Blood Pressure UKv.

However, its statistics also indicate that more than half of those with high blood pressure do not know they have it and have never received treatment.

This is worrying as high blood pressure puts extra strain on your blood vessels and organs such as your kidneys and your brain, and also increases your risk of serious health problems such as strokes and heart attacks.

Blood pressure that is too low, known as hypotension, can also cause life threatening health problems - making it doubly important to have yours checked at regular intervals.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is recorded with 2 numbers: the higher number - or systolic pressure - is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body; the lower number - or diastolic pressure – is the resistance to blood flow in your blood vessels.

Ideally, these figures should be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. Blood pressure is considered to be high when it exceeds 140/90mmHg (or 150/90mmHg if you're 80+).


Most people with high blood pressure do not experience any symptoms; that's one of the reasons why it is such a potentially dangerous condition. However, very high blood pressure can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Headaches;
  • Chest pain;
  • Nosebleeds;
  • Fatigue.


There are medicines that can help to control your blood pressure. But if you're diagnosed with high blood pressure, you will almost certainly also be urged to make lifestyle changes such as:

  • Eating healthily (and reducing the amount of salt in your diet);
  • Losing weight (if you’re overweight);
  • Exercising regularly;
  • Stopping smoking (if you’re a smoker);
  • Cutting down on caffeine.

Fact or fiction?

The human body is 80% water. The percentage of water in the body depends on a variety of factors, including your age and your gender, but is generally between 45% and 75%. The organs that contain the most water are your lungs, kidneys and brain. Your blood, meanwhile, is made up of plasma - a mixture of 92% water and other elements such as vitamins, hormones, and glucose - red and white blood cells, and platelets or thrombocytes, which help to prevent excess bleeding. As a result, the proportion of water in your blood is around 50%vi.

High cholesterol

Cholesterol is derived from our food and it is also synthesised in the liver. It's necessary to help your body build healthy cells, but it comes in good and bad forms; while good cholesterol makes a stroke or a heart attack less likely, too much bad cholesterol - or triglycerides, a type of lipid derived from food that the body uses for storing excess calories - makes them more likely to occur.

What is high cholesterol?

Cholesterol occurs as good cholesterol, called high density lipoprotein (HDL), while bad cholesterol is called low density lipoprotein (LDL) or non-HDL. The recommended levels of these different types of cholesterol are:

  • HDL - 1 or under;
  • LDL - 3 or under.

The recommended level of triglycerides (TG), meanwhile, is 2.3 or under. And either way, your total cholesterol level should not be above 5, NHS guidelines suggest.


As with high blood pressure, high cholesterol often causes no noticeable symptoms. However, in severe cases, it can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Nausea;
  • Chest pain;
  • Extreme fatigue;
  • Shortness of breath.


If you are diagnosed with high cholesterol, you will undoubtedly be encouraged to change your diet to reduce the amount of saturated fat you consume. To do this, you'll need to avoid fatty foods such as sausages, butter, and cakes, and favour healthier choices such as fruit, vegetables, and brown rice, pasta and bread. You may also be told to try to do more exercise and to give up bad habits such as smoking and drinking too much alcohol.

If you fail to do this, or these measures are not enough to bring your cholesterol levels down, you'll probably be prescribed statins, which you have to take for the rest of your life.

Fact or fiction?

All cholesterol is bad for you. Your body needs cholesterol to perform important jobs, such as making hormones and building cells. So-called good cholesterol (HDL) also carries cholesterol back to the liver where it can be flushed from the body, helping to reduce your chances of heart disease and strokesvii.

Cardiovascular health throughout your life

Both blood pressure and cholesterol tend to rise with age. Government figures for England show that the proportion of the population with hypertension increases from 5% of men and 1% of women aged 16 to 24 years, to 58% in men and women aged 65 to 74 yearsi.

Consequently, current NHS advice is to have your blood pressure checked at least every five years once you reach your 40s.

You don't have to wait until you are 40 to get your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked, though - especially if you have reason to believe you are at greater risk of developing these conditions due to health or lifestyle factors.

The same government report indicates that, over 10 years, 7,000 quality adjusted life years could be saved if England achieved just a 15% increase in the proportion of adults who have had their high blood pressure diagnosed. Booking your tests could turn out to be the best decision you ever made.


About the author

Suzanne Clarkson is the Managing Director of Coach House Communications.