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Date: 13 June 2021

Time: 15:15

Protect your heart

Research has shown that people with HIV are at increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, e.g. heart attacks, stroke and angina.

The risk of someone developing heart disease is based on two sets of factors:

  1. Modifiable factors
  2. Non-modifiable factors

Modifiable factors are factors we can change, e.g.:

  • smoking
  • high blood pressure
  • raised blood glucose
  • high cholesterol
  • high body weight

Non-modifiable factors are factors that can not be changed, e.g.:

  • family history
  • age (the risk increases as we grow older)
  • gender (being a man)
  • and ethnicity (particularly South Asian, Caribbean and West African)

The dietitian in clinic is there to help you change your modifiable risk factors to reduce your cardiovascular disease risk.

In our clinics, you will be screened at least yearly for your cardiovascular risk. Individualised diet and lifestyle advice will be given to you based on your needs.  If the recommended diet and lifestyle changes are not enough to reduce your risk sufficiently, you may be referred to other services, such as the lipid clinic, smoking cessation services or weight management services.

How can I reduce my risk of developing heart disease?

Stop smoking

This is one of the most important and beneficial changes you can make to reduce your risk of heart disease. After five years of not smoking, your risk returns to that of a non-smoker.

As smoking also increases your risk of developing several types of cancer, quitting will reduce the risk.
Several important resources are available to support you when quitting smoking. These include stop smoking workbooks, smoking cessation clinics and services in Birmingham. For further information, please ask your GP or practice nurse.

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Eat a healthy diet

Try reducing saturated fat, swapping saturated for healthier unsaturated fats and increasing your intake of oily fish and fruit and vegetables. Please see the healthy eating section for more information on how to improve your diet.

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Drink sensibly

Drinking alcohol in moderation is perfectly fine within a healthy, balanced diet.

  • Women should aim for no more than two units per day
  • Men should aim for no more than three units per day

However, you should not drink every day.  

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Increase physical activity

Increasing physical activity can help reduce your blood pressure, aid with weight loss and increase your “good” cholesterol (also known as HDL cholesterol).

The Government recommends 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five times per week, increasing to 60 minutes if you’re aiming to lose weight.

Moderate physical activity is anything that makes your heart beat a little faster and leads you to break out into a sweat. Before starting any new exercise, speak to your GP should you have any concerns. 
For more information on moderate physical activity and how to incorporate it into your daily routine, please see the NHS Choices website.

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Maintain a healthy weight

Body mass index (BMI) is used as an indicator of healthy weight. A healthy BMI is between 20 and 25 kg/m².

Having a high BMI puts extra strain on your heart and can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease can result in heart attack, stroke, or loss of limbs. It can also cause impotence in men.

If your BMI is above 25 kg/m², you should consider weight reduction strategies. Losing weight can be difficult without support. Our dietitians will be happy to provide you with the information and support you may require to achieve your ideal weight and to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Introductory tips to help you lose weight:

  • Exercise regularly, for at least for 60 minutes, five times per week
  • Reduce food portion sizes by using a smaller serving plate
  • Eat more fruit and vegetables – aim for at leastfive portions per day
  • Avoid high-calorie foods such as cakes, biscuits, sweets and crisps.  Swap them for healthier snacks such as fruit, "light" yoghurt or one slice of wholemeal toast with low-fat spread
  • Limit the amount of fat, butter and oil used in cooking. Oils such as rapeseed oil and olive oil are healthier. Use only the minimum amount required by measuring them with a teaspoon or using a spray, rather than pouring them
  • Reduce your food cravings by going for a walk, playing a game, reading a book or having healthy snacks readily prepared, e.g. chopped up fruit and vegetables
    • Don’t have long gaps without eating
    • Take pre-prepared snacks and packed lunches when you go out
    • Make a list of meals you are going to eat at the start of the week so you have an idea of what to eat at meal times

Our patient information leaflet on a cardio-protective diet, to ensure you’re eating for a healthy heart, is available to download below.

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Exercise is important for everyone and helps people to maintain a healthy weight and body mass index. It can also reduce blood pressure, improve mood and reduce the risk of diabetes developing, or improve diabetes control.

The dietitian in clinic can discuss with you how to incorporate exercise into your daily routine and explain its benefits all in a way that suits you.  In and around Birmingham there are free Be Active sessions at council leisure centres. 

The Birmingham City Council website provides further information on Be Active as well as other activities such as walking groups (see link below).

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