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6 workday habits that keep your heart healthy

It's one thing knowing that you could be doing more to keep your heart healthy - and another entirely finding the time. Whether you're a 9-to-5 desk worker, a long-distance commuter, or a parent juggling it all, we've assembled 6 heart healthy habits for you to slot into your busy workday schedule. 

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How to keep your heart healthy during the work week 

Eating right, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol, and managing stress - many of us have heard this before. But while we want to avoid cardiovascular diseases like heart disease, heart attacks, and stroke, juggling a hectic work and home life often takes priority. 

Yet, only focusing on how to keep your heart healthy at the weekends isn't typically going to be enough. Experts tell us that each week we need to: 

  • Exercise at moderate intensity for at least 150 minutes a week, or exercise at high intensity for at least 75 minutes a week1

  • Limit how much sugar, saturated fats, salt, and processed foods we eat every day2

  • Avoid or moderate our unhealthy habits throughout the week - for example, 14 units of alcohol is the recommended maximum intake a week, so long as it's spread over three or more days with several drink-free days, and no binge drinking3

The bottom line? When it comes to our health, we can't undo the damage caused by an unhealthy work week by being extra good on Saturday and Sunday. 

These 6 daily activities prove that the little things we do can add up to make a significant difference to our health over time. 

1. Always choose the stairs 

People who regularly climb the stairs are 39% less likely to die from cardiovascular disease - and 24% less likely to die from any cause - according to a 2024 study presented at ESC Preventive Cardiology congress4.  

The study, which included around 480,500 people, established a significant link between stair climbing and heart health. Dr Sophie Paddock, study author from the University of East Anglia and Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital Foundation Trust, says:  

"Whether at work, home or elsewhere, take the stairs. Even brief bursts of physical activity have beneficial health effects, and short bouts of stair climbing should be an achievable target to include into daily routines. Based on these results, we would encourage people to incorporate stair climbing into their day-to-day lives."

So next time you're facing that escalator on your commute, or the lift to your work floor, find that staircase and embrace the short daily challenge for big long-term benefits. 

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2. Move about in small bursts 

Those 75 or 150 minutes of vigorous or moderate exercise a week can feel like a lot of extra time to make room for. While it is important to plan in a bit of time for some more intense action a couple of times a week - like running or playing football - research shows that being active little and often also has an important accumulative effect. 

Don't sit for too long 

Many of us have sedentary jobs, meaning we're sitting down for most of the day. We don't exactly know why this is so bad for us, but it might be that not using our muscles often enough affects our blood vessels. In turn, this may affect blood pressure and sugar regulation5

Find 11 minutes to walk - and don't look at your phone 

In 2023, a large study found that 11 minutes of brisk walking could help prevent cardiovascular disease, cancer, and 1 in 10 deaths worldwide6. Bear in mind this is more than an easy-going stroll - walking briskly means your breathing and heart rate become faster. You may feel a bit sweaty, but you should still be able to hold a conversation. 

You may have a park near your home or place of work to do this in. But try not to multitask on your phone and keep your gaze forward to feel the full health benefits, says physiotherapist and professor of sports medicine Dr Laimonas Šiupšinskas.

"Don't stop walking," says the professor, "but don't forget that with age you have to add muscle strengthening exercises three times a week to keep your muscles strong and fit."

 More tips for moving during the work day: 

  • If you have to use an escalator, walk up it instead of standing still. 

  • Walk or cycle if your work commute or school run is under a mile. 

  • If you drive, park your car furthest away from the office door. 

  • Encourage walking meetings if the weather is nice. 

  • If you sit at a desk, stand up, stretch, and move around frequently. 

3. Packed lunch 

When you grab a shop ready meal on your lunch break, you're less in control of what you're eating. Processed meals and snacks like prepared wraps, crisps, and microwave options tend to contain a lot more fat, sugar and salt than home prepared options - and these can all affect your heart over time. 

We’re also less likely to make heart healthy food choices when we are already hungry, are feeling the stresses of the work day, or feel rushed. This is why preparing a packed lunch the night before - when you're full from dinner and in a more relaxed state - can help you to prioritise tasty ingredients that support heart health. For example: 

  • Foods naturally high in soluble fibre may help lower bad cholesterol - these include citrus fruits, sweet potato, aubergine, mango, beans, chickpeas and lentils. 

  • Foods containing omega-3 fatty acids can fight inflammation - these include walnuts, oily fish, chia seeds, flax seeds and soybeans. 

Lunch idea: prepare a chickpea and lentil salad with aubergine, sweet potato and your choice of protein. Pack a lemon slice for the dressing and enjoy. 

If you have to buy: read food labels for salt, sugar and sat fat content. Labels in the UK use the traffic light system: green indicates low levels, amber moderate, and red means high.  

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4. Use these sneaky dinner hacks 

By following these food group rules, you can significantly protect your heart. This starts with forgetting or reserving the saturated fats for special occasions - for example, butter, fatty or processed meats and processed meals like pies. Instead focus on: 

  • Oily fish - such as tuna and salmon. 

  • Whole grains – such as brown rice and bulgur wheat. 

  • Low fat dairy – such as natural yoghurt and cottage cheese. 

  • Lean proteins – such as chicken and lentils. 

  • High fibre foods – such as sweet potato and beans. 

Of course, it's difficult to introduce a bunch of new recipes to your week if you are short on time or have a family of fussy eaters to feed. For times when you need to rely on your favourite meals, here are some easy and sneaky recipe swaps: 

  • If you cook with butter or vegetable oil, swap for a healthy fat alternative – like olive oil

  • If you're used to salt seasoning, reduce the amount gradually – tastebuds will adapt. 

  • Even better, replace with herbs and spices – like paprika, basil, or cumin. 

  • Limit your ready-made sauces, dressings and condiments at each meal. 

  • Remove the saltshaker/container from your table at mealtimes. 

5. Allow for down time every day 

Dedicating some time each day to relaxation - in whatever form that means to you - isn't time wasted, according to heart health experts. In a time when burnout, the word for work-related stress, is being called a major public health concern, making sure we calm our minds and nervous systems after a busy day has long-term benefits. 

Stress increases your chances of developing cardiovascular disease7. Rather than causing disease directly, it's believed that the main link between stress and your heart is the unhealthy habits it encourages. This could be smoking, binge drinking, or ordering takeaways in the week. 

If you're constantly in a state of stress - called chronic stress - this link becomes more direct. When you're stressed, you release adrenaline which raises your blood pressure. This is supposed to subside, but not in chronic stress. One study found that people with PTSD - post traumatic stress disorder, which is a heightened form of chronic stress, were more likely to develop high blood pressure, obesity and cardiovascular disease8. However, in those people with PTSD, lifestyle factors such as a smoking, poor diet and increased alcohol intake were also present - increasing their likelihood of having long term health problems.

So, it could be that all of these factors combined increase those risks.

  • Switch off from work completely in the evenings – overworking leads to burnout. 

  • Have dedicated time away from your phone – this can cause anxiety. 

  • Prioritise social time with the family – to remind you what matters after a bad day. 

  • Find a hobby that relaxes you – like reading or painting. 

  • Practice mindfulness even for a few minutes – there are journals and apps to get you started. 

6. Floss before bed 

What does your dental health have to do with your heart health? Researchers are finding that there's a strong connection between the two - and that people who have gum disease have a greater risk of cardiovascular diseases like heart attack, stroke, and other serious heart problems9. Experts aren't exactly sure how, but they have some theories: 

  • In gum disease, the bacteria that infect the gums can also travel to blood vessels, causing inflammation (swelling) and damage. This increases the risk of blood clots, stroke, and heart attack. 

  • Instead of bacteria causing the problem, it's the body's immune response, inflammation, that alone causes the blood vessel damage. 

It’s even possible that there's no direct link between gum disease and cardiovascular disease - instead they are linked by possible third factors that increase the likelihood of both. Experts theorise that smoking or an unhealthy diet may be such factors.

Regardless, flossing is an effective way of removing plaque build-up and protecting your oral health. If it does hold long-term heart benefits, it’s an easy habit to slip into your bedtime routine. 

Further reading 

  1. World Health Organization: Physical activity.  

  2. World Health Organization: Limit fat, salt and sugar intake

  3. Drinkaware: Low risk drinking guidelines.  

  4. ESC Preventive Cardiology 2024: Optimal exercise modalities for primary and secondary prevention.  

  5. Daneshmandi et al: Adverse effects of prolonged sitting behaviour on the general health of office workers. 

  6. Garcia et al: Non-occupational physical activity and risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and mortality outcomes: a dose–response meta-analysis of large prospective studies.  

  7. Satyjeet et al: Psychological stress as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease: a case-control study.  

  8. Coughlin: Post-traumatic stress disorder and cardiovascular disease.  

  9. Leng et al: Periodontal disease is associated with the risk of cardiovascular disease independent of sex: a meta-analysis.

Article history

The information on this page is peer reviewed by qualified clinicians.

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