How to keep your heart healthy

Giving your heart some love and care can help reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and heart attack. From understanding the risk factors for heart disease to eating a heart-healthy diet, here’s what you can do to help look after your heart.

Written by Medibank
January 2024

Your heart works hard to keep you functioning well every day, which means a healthy heart is essential for enjoying a long and healthy life. Thankfully, diseases that affect the heart are called cardiovascular disease and are largely ​​preventable.  

Cardiovascular disease is ​​often simply referred to as heart disease. This includes everything from heart failure and ​​stroke to the most common type, which is coronary heart ​​disease. It’s this type of heart disease that can eventually lead to a heart ​​attack.

Are you at risk of heart disease?

There are several risk factors that can play a ​​role in developing heart disease. These factors are used by doctors to assess your ‘absolute cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk’ – your overall likelihood of developing heart disease in the next 5 ​​years.

Risk factors for heart disease include:

  • age
  • ethnic background
  • having family history of heart disease
  • smoking (both active smoking and being exposed to second-hand smoke)
  • high blood cholesterol
  • high blood pressure
  • diabetes
  • being physically inactive
  • being overweight
  • depression, social isolation and lack of quality support.

To find out your absolute CVD risk, visit your doctor for a ​​Heart Health ​​Check. These checks are covered by Medicare and are recommended at least once every 2​ years to anyone aged 45 years and over, or 30 years and over for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ​peoples.

Your doctor can then help you develop a plan to work towards reducing your risk as much as ​possible.

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Medibank Type 2 Diabetes Program

This 12-month program includes consultations with a dietitian and a supported meal plan that aims to help eligible members achieve a healthy weight and manage their type 2 diabetes. Clinical and product eligibility criteria apply.

8 tips to improve your heart health

From lifestyle habits to taking control of health conditions that can increase the risk of heart disease, here’s how to look after your heart. 

1. Eat a heart-healthy diet

What you choose to eat impacts your weight as well as your cholesterol levels and blood ​​pressure – and when these are elevated, they’re considered risk factors for heart ​disease. 

A heart healthy diet involves eating well over time, rather than focusing on specific nutrients or thinking of individual foods as ‘good’ or ‘​​bad’.

Broadly speaking, a ​​diet that supports heart health is one that’s low in unhealthy fats, salt and added sugar and rich in fibre, wholegrains and healthy fats. Vitamins and antioxidants are key ​too, so try to eat at least 5 serves of vegetables a day, as these are rich ​sources. On its own, eating the recommended amount of vegetables can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by almost ​​17 per cent.

2. Control your cholesterol levels

Cholesterol is a fatty substance in your blood and while your body needs a certain amount of ​it, having too much is one of the major risk factors for heart ​​disease.

High cholesterol levels can cause a build-up of fatty plaques in the arteries. If this build-up causes a blockage, it increases the risk of having a heart attack or ​​stroke. 

A few key lifestyle changes can help you lower or control your cholesterol levels. These include eating a heart-healthy diet, doing regular physical activity, limiting your alcohol intake, losing weight if you’re carrying too much and​​ not smoking.  

3. Understand and control your blood pressure

Blood pressure naturally goes up and down all the time, but when it’s often higher than normal it’s called ‘high blood ​pressure’. 

High blood pressure is one of the main risk factors for heart ​​disease, increasing the risk of both heart attack and ​​stroke. 

More than one in ​​3 adults in Australia have high blood pressure and many may not know they have it. This makes it important to have your blood pressure checked regularly by your ​doctor, and is why it’s one of the checks involved in a Heart Health ​​Check. 

Risk factors for high blood pressure include eating a diet high in salt, drinking too much alcohol, smoking and being inactive. Carrying too much weight and high cholesterol are also risk ​​factors. 

Addressing these, as well as ​​eating a ‘blood pressure’ diet, can help to lower high blood ​​pressure.

4. Manage your risk of diabetes

People who live with diabetes are up to 4 times more likely to have a heart attack or ​stroke. Yet, almost 60 per cent of type 2 diabetes (which accounts for 90 per cent of all diabetes in Australia) could be delayed or prevented with lifestyle ​​interventions.

You can reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes by increasing how physically active you are, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy ​weight.  

Senior couple

Medibank Type 2 Diabetes Program

This 12-month program includes consultations with a dietitian and a supported meal plan that aims to help eligible members achieve a healthy weight and manage their type 2 diabetes. Clinical and product eligibility criteria apply.

5. Try to achieve a healthy weight

Rather than embarking on the latest fad diet, the best way to lose weight is to make healthy changes to your eating and exercise habits that you can maintain long ​​term. Start by making some small changes and setting some realistic ​goals. 

If you’re unsure whether your weight is in the healthy range, you can use ​​a BMI calculator to help assess your weight. Calculating your waist-to-height ratio is another tool you can ​use. Find your ratio by dividing your waist measurement (in centimetres) by your height (in ​​centimetres) – if it’s greater than 0.5, your weight may be increasing your risk of heart ​disease.

6. Exercise for heart health

Regular exercise can cut the risk of developing heart disease or having a heart ​​attack, yet 4 out of 5 Australians aren’t doing enough physical ​​activity.1

Try to be active most days, cumulating at least 2½ hours of moderate intensity physical activity each ​week. And remember, every bit of activity counts – even squeezing 5-minute blocks of activity into your day will help you meet your ​​target.  

7. Try to quit smoking

After just one year of being smoke-free, the increased heart-attack risk associated with smoking falls by half. In as little as 5 years, the risk returns to the level of a non-​​smoker.3

Research shows it can take several attempts to quit smoking before someone’s ​​successful – so even if you’ve tried to quit before, don’t give up.

Research also shows the most effective way to quit smoking is using a combination of ‘quitting counselling’, like Quitline, and medications designed to help you stop smoking, such as nicotine replacement ​​therapy. You can contact Quitline on 137 ​​848.

8. Improve your mental health and wellbeing

Studies have shown a link between some mental health conditions and the risk of developing heart disease. For example, living with depression may increase heart-disease risk just as much as having high blood pressure or ​​smoking.

Certain lifestyle habits, such as exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet can help to improve the symptoms of some mental health conditions, including ​​depression. However, if you’re experiencing depression, anxiety, stress or other mental health issues, talking to a health professional is an important first step to getting ​​treatment.

If you’d like to address a mental health issue or simply look after your social and emotional wellbeing, find out more at Better Minds by Medibank.

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24/7 Mental Health Phone Support 

Members with hospital cover* can talk with a mental health professional over the phone in relation to any mental health or emotional concern, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on 1800 644 325.

Read more about heart healthy living

Looking for something else?

Visit Heart health for more information.

Things you need to know

Heart Foundation; Key Statistics: Cardiovascular Disease; retrieved June 2023

Heart Foundation; Key Statistics: Cardiovascular Disease; retrieved June 2023

Heart Foundation; Smoking and your heart; retrieved June 2023 

While we hope you find this information helpful, please note that it is general in nature. It is not health advice, and is not tailored to meet your individual health needs. You should always consult a trusted health professional before making decisions about your health care. While we have prepared the information carefully, we can’t guarantee that it is accurate, complete or up-to-date. And while we may mention goods or services provided by others, we aren’t specifically endorsing them and can’t accept responsibility for them. For these reasons we are unable to accept responsibility for any loss that may be sustained from acting on this information (subject to applicable consumer guarantees).