Too many Australian adults don’t think about the health of their heart until it’s already damaged. But neglecting your heart can have dire consequences. Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) causes one in four deaths in Australia, with one person losing their life to the disease every 12 minutes. CVD costs the economy $5 billion dollars every year. But the good news is deaths have been declining in the past 10 years because of research and awareness of risk factors, medications and interventions.
By making a few simple changes in your life you cut your risk of developing heart disease and CVD, which includes heart and blood vessel diseases and stroke.
Eating a diet that is low in saturated fat, high fibre and mainly plant based can significantly reduce the risk of heart disease. The Heart Foundation recommends eating five or more vegetables per day to reduce the risk of CVD by 17%. The best foods for heart health are those that lower the LDL cholesterol or blood pressure and include walnuts, chia seeds, avocados, sardines and cold-water fish.
One of the biggest risk factors of CVD and heart disease is a poor diet. Eating foods that are high in saturated fat and salt regularly will increase your risks. Fatty meat, full fat dairy products, highly processed foods and butter are all high in saturated fats and can increase your total cholesterol level, particularly the bad cholesterol, LDL.
Try to swap out saturated fats and instead choose monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats, which help to reduce the LDL levels and increase the healthy HDL cholesterol levels.
Exercise benefits many parts of the body, none more so than the heart. One of the best activities for heart health is moderate aerobic exercise. Around 150 minutes per week will help your cardiac output (heart pumping) and reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
Any aerobic exercise that sees your heart pump faster will help such as running, swimming, brisk walking, cycling and jump rope.
If you’re aged over 45 years (or 30 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people), have a heart health check-up at your doctors every two years. The 20 minute check-up will assess your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. Your blood pressure, cholesterol level, blood sugar, family history and lifestyle will help determine your level of risk.
If your GP identifies you as high risk for heart disease or CVD, they may prescribe you medications that can help lower LDL cholesterol, prevent blood clots or treat heart failure. Ask questions so you know what each medication does and how to take them safely. Medications can extend quantity and quality of life by preventing heart attack and stroke.
While supplements aren’t a substitute for a healthy balanced diet, they can fill in the gaps. Fibre can help lower cholesterol, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids can help lower triglyceride levels in the blood, and magnesium for high blood pressure. Before taking any supplements, speak to your doctor to ensure they’re suitable to take with any medications you’re taking.
Smoking is one of the main risk factors for heart disease and CVD. Smoking causes damage to the heart and blood vessels and causes fatty deposits to build up in the coronary arteries. If you smoke, visit your GP and ask for help to quit. The long-term effects of excessive alcohol consumption include high blood pressure, damage to the heart and heart attacks. The Australian standards recommend no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than four on any one day to reduce the risk of alcohol-related disease.
Stress is another risk factor of heart disease. Stress causes inflammation in the body, and long-term stress can damage your heart. Try to reduce your stress levels by exercising, reducing caffeine intake, practising mindfulness and spending time with friends and family.
If you’re feeling so stressed or anxious that it affects your daily activities, speak to your doctor about strategies for reducing the level of stress in your life.
Your genetics is one risk factor you can’t do anything about, but knowing you have a family history of heart disease can help. Be sure to tell your doctor if your father or brother had heart disease before the age of 55, or your mother or sister before the age of 65. A family history doesn’t necessarily mean you're destined to get heart disease, but regular check-ups are more important to reduce your risk and ensure you’re prescribed medication if needed.
Almost two in three Australians are either overweight or obese. Excess weight causes high blood pressure, diabetes, increased cholesterol and with time can lead to heart failure. A study found that moderately overweight women (BMI between 25 and 28.9) are twice as likely to develop coronary heart disease than a slender woman (BMI of less than 21).
If you’re one of the 90% of Australians who have one or more risk factors for heart disease, do what you can to reduce your risks. While you can’t change your age or family history, there are many factors you can control such as diet and lifestyle.
At Altius Group, we take a holistic approach to health and wellbeing, both in the workplace and at home. Our range of specialists identify health related issues or barriers and provide strategies and programs to improve employee health.
To find out how we can help with employee health and wellbeing, contact us today.