According to the Irish Heart Foundation, heart disease is Ireland’s number one killer and the most common cause of death and disability. Cardiovascular diseases include coronary heart disease (angina, heart attack), stroke and other circulatory diseases. In Ireland, the figures speak for themselves:
- Roughly 10,000 people die from cardiovascular disease each year
- One million people have high blood pressure, the leading cause of stroke and heart disease
- 90,000 people are living with heart failure.
Drinking less alcohol can help to reduce your risk of high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. This Irish Heart Month, why not take some time to think about your drinking habits and how this might be affecting your heart health? Here are some tips from Irish Heart Foundation to improve your blood pressure:
- Know your blood pressure level (get a free check at the IHF Mobile Health Unit)
- Aim for a healthy weight
- Eat less salt and processed food and eat more fruit and veg
- Drink less alcohol
- Be more active
WHAT’S THE ISSUE WITH ALCOHOL?
We have all read media articles about research claiming the health benefits of moderate drinking however, a recent major study concluded that any beneficial effects against heart disease were cancelled out by the combined health risks associated with alcohol so it’s worth taking some time to understand how your drinking habits may be impacting your heart health.
Regularly drinking over the low-risk guidelines raises your blood pressure, which means your heart has to work harder to pump blood around the body. High blood pressure can also affect how quickly a heart beats (arrhythmia) and can cause the heart muscles to weaken (cardiomyopathy). High blood pressure is one of the most common alcohol-related health problems facing Irish adults, but many people don’t realise they have it. In fact, it is often referred to as a ‘silent killer’ and by 2020, it is estimated that 1.2 million adults in Ireland – one-quarter of the population – will have high blood pressure.
Did you know? If you are overweight or obese, you are more likely to have a heart attack than a person who is a healthy weight. Alcohol has a high calorie content but what many people don’t realise is that alcohol can also contain a lot of sugar, which can contribute to weight gain.
KNOW THE GUIDELINES
Are you drinking within the HSE low-risk guidelines for alcohol consumption? Less than 3% of Irish adults can correctly identify the guidelines but they are important to know and can help you to see how much you are really drinking over the week. Remember, these are guidelines – not a target.
- Women: Less than 11 standard drinks (110g pure alcohol) spread out over the week, with at least two alcohol-free days
- Men: Less than 17 standard drinks (170g pure alcohol) spread out over the week, with at least two alcohol-free days
Common examples of one standard drink are a half pint of lager/stout/cider, a 100ml glass of wine or pub measure (35.5ml) of spirits. On average, it takes one hour for the body to process one standard drink and there’s no quick fix – only time.
MAKE SMALL CHANGES
Here are some small steps you could take to drink less alcohol. Remember, everyone’s motivation for drinking less is different so it’s important to choose what will work for you.
- Stay out of rounds – you may end up drinking far more than you intended as you are more likely to drink at the pace of the fastest person in the group.
- Set yourself a limit on a night out. If you usually go for an after-work drink on a Friday, why not set a limit on the number of drinks you will have in advance? Keeping this number in mind will help you to keep track and stick to it.
- Alternate each drink with a glass of water to reduce the dehydration associated with alcohol. Keep a jug of water on the table to make this easier.
- Always use a standard drink measure: never free-pour spirits or wine. Order one for free
- Never top up your wine glass – always finish one glass before refilling. Topping up your glass makes it harder to track how much you’re drinking.
- Take advantage of the increasingly available lower or no-alcohol beer or wine and swap out your usual drink.
- Break your habits at home. This can seem like a nice way to unwind after a long day but it can often result in drinking more than usual. If your normal night in includes a drink in front of the TV, consider doing something different like going for a walk or try not to keep alcohol in the house.
- If you would like to stop drinking completely, we have some advice to help.