Men's health

Heart health


19 September 2023

Most of us know how important it is to look after our heart. British Heart Foundation state 7.6m people in the UK are living with a heart or circulatory disease and it causes around a quarter of all deaths; that's more than 160,000 deaths each year, or 460 each day.1

To help you stay informed, we've brought together a selection of your questions on heart health, answered by our clinical team. From how much exercise we should aim to undertake, in order to help maintain a healthy heart, to concerns around blood pressure and how often we should be getting it checked…

Exercise-based questions

I go to the gym 3 times a week, but never know how much cardio I should be doing? And is cardio the only exercise that can benefit the heart?

There is no hard and fast rule. The very fact that you're doing regular exercise already means that you're doing more than many people to keep fit and look after your heart.

Cardio exercises are specifically tailored to strengthen the heart muscles and increase the heart rate to keep it strong, in the same way as using any muscle regularly will make it stronger. However, although they are particularly good for this, any exercise is better than none.

Three cardio sessions a week sounds about right to me and we would suggest that any additional exercise should be different just to make it more interesting and to use some other muscles. Most importantly, pick something you enjoy doing! Heart UK state: “Adults should aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity or 75 minutes of intense activity every week. If you can do more that’s even better.”2

Is it most beneficial to exercise first thing in the morning?

There is no rule at all to this. Try and fit in exercise wherever you can in your day. I sometimes suggest that people make it a regular date so that Wednesday night is swimming and Friday morning is half an hour at the gym or an exercise DVD at home. Then it becomes as routine as cleaning your teeth instead of being something you're attempting to fit into your day.

>Read more on how to form healthy habits

Blood pressure-based questions

How often should you get your blood pressure checked? I'm in my 20's, should I be having it checked annually?

The guidelines suggest that for someone of your age, blood pressure should be checked every 3-5 years. However, I think that annually is better because, although blood pressure levels rarely increase dramatically from one year to the next, raised blood pressure hardly ever causes symptoms so, unless you have it checked, you won't know it's increasing.

Further intervals will be decided by what blood pressure reading you record.

  • If your blood pressure is healthy – between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg - keep having checks at least every five years.
  • If your blood pressure is slightly raised – between 120/80mmHg and 139/89mmHg last time you had a check, then it’s best to get your blood pressure checked every year, and at least every five years.
  • If you have high blood pressure – a reading which is over 140/90mmHg, you should go to your GP if you had your check elsewhere. High blood pressure is usually diagnosed when your numbers are consistently over 140/90mmHg. Speak to your doctor about how often you should have checks. You might need to have checks quite often to begin with, perhaps every few weeks, while you get your blood pressure under control. Then less often, perhaps once every six months to a year.3

It's worth mentioning that accurate blood pressure monitors can also be bought relatively cheaply in most chemists and online. With most coming with some information about when to seek further advice.

I've been told I may have low blood pressure as I've been experiencing sudden dizziness and numbness, which lasts no more than a minute, so how can I prevent that happening? I'm 30, generally healthy/stress free, with no underlying health issues.

Although low blood pressure means that you're far less likely to suffer in the future from a heart attack, stroke or 'furred up' arteries, the downside is that you are more prone to fainting.

The interval you describe when you feel dizzy is where your body is adjusting the blood pressure upwards to supply your brain adequately. You probably don't need to do anything but just to be sure I would get your blood pressure professionally checked by your GP or nurse.

Both my parents have high blood pressure - am I at high risk of getting it myself?

The short answer here is yes, you are at risk of getting it yourself. Hypertension (high blood pressure) is not fully understood but what we do know is that it's often inherited, so if you have two parents with it then you are at increased risk yourself.

I suggest an annual blood pressure check with the need and frequency of subsequent ones being determined by the reading the doctor or nurse measures.

Heart health-based questions

I've been told that I might have an irregular heartbeat when having check-ups in the past. How dangerous can this be, and should I get it looked into properly?

It would be advisable to have this professionally checked. The reason is that, although we all have extra and missed beats every day and probably every hour, there is a common condition called atrial fibrillation (AF) which, although not necessarily dangerous in itself, makes it more likely to develop blood clots, which can travel to the brain, resulting in strokes.

To avoid this, doctors thin the blood of people who have AF. An appointment with your GP and possibly an ECG will answer whether or not you have this condition.

How do you really tell the difference between indigestion and a more serious chest problem?

Without knowing more about you, such as your age and how long you've been experiencing symptoms, etc. it can be difficult to make a proper diagnosis. However, if you can relieve your symptoms easily with an over-the-counter antacid medicine or tablet, it's unlikely to be anything to worry about.

If the discomfort persists or there are any other symptoms, such as weight-loss, tiredness or loss of appetite, I would get it checked out by your GP.

When it comes to heart palpitations, should you have these checked out immediately or is it only in certain circumstances that it should be something to worry about? e.g., regularity.

You should get them checked out sooner rather than later even though most will not be anything to worry about.

The reason for this is that almost all of us get missed and extra beats most days and sometimes we may get a few seconds of missed or extra beats which feel like palpitations, but when they're checked out they are often found to be so infrequent that they’re not a cause for concern.

However, they can sometimes indicate a true alteration in the heart's rhythm, which may need treating. Usually, a simple ECG or a 24-hour ECG can resolve the problem of whether or not the palpitations are anything to worry about.

Family history of heart issues

My mother who is 86 has angina and has also had a heart bypass about 12 years ago. I am 6 months short of 60, and was wondering if my mother's condition was in any way hereditary?

Things like angina and furring up of the arteries do have an inherited element to them quite often, but that is only one factor of many. The others are things like:

  • smoking,
  • blood pressure,
  • cholesterol levels,
  • weight,
  • whether or not you have diabetes
  • ans whether or not you exercise.

So, it's not inevitable that you will have the same condition, especially with preventative steps like those listed above to help reduce the risk.

Several members of my family have suffered heart attacks - what can I do to prevent this happening?

If you have a family history of heart attacks, it's even more important that you have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked and that you don't smoke. It would also be worth having a fasting blood sugar check done because high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes often go together.

Taking regular exercise at least 3 times a week, can also help to keep your heart healthy.

If you are concerned about any of the symptoms or heart health issues above then contact you GP and seek medical advice.


  1. UK Factsheet – British Heart Foundation
  2. Exercise can improve your health in many ways – Heart UK
  3. How often should I get my blood pressure checked? – Blood Pressure UK

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