Your heart is a biological wonder. For such a small organ (it's the size of a fist) it certainly packs a punch. Your heart beats about 100,000 times a day; transporting vital oxygen and nutrients, and pumping 23,000 litres of blood around your body - all in a day's work.
Yet, amazing as your heart is, it's not invincible. Heart disease is a killer. In the UK and around the globe - it's the biggest cause of death.
Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term; it means disorders of your heart and blood vessels. And the vast majority of them can be prevented. For example, according to the World Health Organization, eight out of 10 premature deaths from heart attack or stroke are preventable.
Many of you know what the vices are: smoking, poor diet, being overweight, alcohol, not being active enough. And they can make all the difference between a healthy heart and a damaged one. So if we know what the causes are - why is it such a health burden?
According to recent research by Bupa, most people who said they weren't worried about getting heart disease said so because 'you can't worry about what may or may not harm you'. It's true there's no point in worrying about things that are down to chance alone - but with heart health, it's different - you do have some control.
The main cause of CVD is fatty deposits building up inside your blood vessels - and this takes time. Looking after your heart early on can stop this happening.
It's scary to discover from the research that people said having a health scare would be the main prompt to start leading a heart-healthy lifestyle. Preventative measures need to start much sooner. Why wait for something to go wrong when you can prevent it from happening altogether?
It's probable that many young people don't think about heart disease - perhaps because they have an 'out of sight out of mind' mentality, or perhaps because they see it as an older person's disease.
So what you can do when, say, you're in your twenties? Here's what I recommend you do in your early adult years to get your heart in a good place, for now and for the future.
- Get to know yourself. Do you know your BMI or waist circumference? Have you tracked how much exercise you do a week? Are you mindful about what you put in your shopping basket? These are simple, key measures that can give you an indication of how healthy you are at the moment and what you may need to change.
- Register with a doctor. Hopefully you're rolling your eyes at this - it's a given. But I want to stress that the prognosis and control of many conditions is heavily influenced by how early you catch it. Getting your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked are simple ways to check your heart health. Your doctor is your first port of call for this.
- Find a sport or form of exercise you love. It's much easier to keep being active if you get into the habit early on. There's so much to choose from - there's a whole new wave of approaches to exercise from Zumba (though it's not everyone's thing) through to something more traditional like British Military Fitness or Park Runs . Exercising in groups is a fun way to stay motivated, get fit and meet new people. And being outside is an added bonus.
- Research suggests that over 200,000 children aged between 11 and 15 take up smoking every year. If this was you and you've continued to smoke into adulthood, then quitting now is the single best thing you can do.
- Find out your family history. Some heart conditions are hereditary. And you're at an increased risk if one of your relatives has heart disease. So it's more important than ever to look at your lifestyle and focus on things you can do to prevent it.
- We're not a 100 percent sure how or if different types of stress cause heart disease, but there is a link. And the unhealthy behaviours that stress can cause often have a knock-on effect on your heart. Learning how to tame and control stress has a far-reaching impact on your mental and physical health. I'm a big ambassador of mindfulness and meditation - find something that relaxes you and helps you stay calm.
If you're reading this and you're past your twenties, please don't think it's too late to make some changes - these tips can be used by everyone. Don't wait for your heart to tell you something's wrong. Make your heart a priority and make that a healthy habit for life. A positive change - no matter where you are in your life - will always be a good thing for your heart.