A healthy heart is essential for a long, vibrant and healthy life. It works hard to keep us functioning well, so we need to give it some love and care back. That means eating well, exercising and reducing the lifestyle factors that can increase our risk of heart disease, stroke and heart attack.
Every year almost 10,000 Australians die of a heart attack, and many more may be at risk. The Heart Foundation says more than a million Australians aged 30-65 are at high risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke, and many may not even realise.
The good news is, heart disease is largely preventable. To start making heart healthy changes, take a moment to understand your risk and how your lifestyle might impact on the most important organ in your body.
What’s your heart risk?
Knowing your risk is the first step you can take to prevent heart attack or stroke. There are a number of risk factors that can play a role. These factors are used by doctors to assess your ‘absolute cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk’ – your overall likelihood of experiencing a heart attack or stroke in the next five years.
Risk factors for heart disease include:
- 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
- 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. Your doctor can then help you develop a plan to work towards reducing your risk as much as possible.
“Being active can help control risk factors such as high blood pressure, as well as helping you maintain a healthy weight.”
How to look after your heart
Some risk factors are out of your control – age and family history, for example. But there are some lifestyle changes you can make to keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk of disease.
1. Be smoke-free
If you needed one more reason to quit smoking, the Heart Foundation reports that tobacco is a leading cause of heart attack, stroke and peripheral vascular disease. Smoking is the largest single preventable cause of death in Australia, killing over 15,000 Australians each year.
Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but it is a key lifestyle change you can make to protect your heart – as well as improving your overall health in a number of vital ways.
2. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
The health of your body impacts the health of your heart. To keep your heart in good condition, the Heart Foundation recommends a healthy eating plan that includes a balanced variety of nutritious foods, focusing on colourful vegetables and fruits, wholegrains and legumes, reduced fat dairy, unprocessed lean meats, unsaturated fats, foods enriched with omega-3, and avoiding foods that contain trans fat.
3. Be active
Getting in some moderate physical activity each day is a good way to protect your heart. Being active can help control risk factors such as high blood pressure, as well as helping you to reach and maintain a healthy weight. For the best heart benefits, the Heart Foundation suggests aiming for 30 minutes of moderate activity such as brisk walking on most if not all days of the week.
4. Maintain a healthy weight and waist circumference
A healthy weight and waist measurement reduces your risk of developing many chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. Waist circumference can be a helpful way to assess how much body fat you are carrying.
5. Seek treatment for any mental health issues
Studies have shown a link between mental health problems such as depression and the risk of heart disease. If you feel you are experiencing depression, anxiety, stress or other mental health issues, talking to a health professional is an important first step to getting treatment. For more information about mental illness and what treatment options might be available to you, visit beyondblue.
6. Have regular check-ups
One of the most important things you can do is see your doctor for a heart health check. This involves getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked and having a chat about your lifestyle risk factors – all of which can be done as part of a routine check up.
“One of the most important things you can do is see your doctor for a heart health check.”
What are the warning signs of a heart attack?
It’s essential that you know how to recognise a heart attack. The warning signs and symptoms can vary from person to person. While chest pain or discomfort is the most common heart attack symptom, it can vary from mild to severe, and some may not experience any chest pain at all.
In the case of a heart attack, you may experience pain, pressure, tightness or heaviness in your:
Other warning signs include:
- Cold sweat
- Shortness of breath
The sooner you receive treatment for a heart attack, the less damage is likely to be done. If you experience the warning signs of heart attack for 10 minutes, if they are severe or get progressively worse, call Triple Zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance.
For more information on heart health visit heartfoundation.org.au