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How to have a healthy heart

The tide in recent years is definitely changing. Potentially driven by the democratisation of media (hello, health food and fitness bloggers) more and more people are starting to think twice about what they eat and also ensuring they fit in that 30 minute walk before work. Yet heart disease continues to be a leading cause of death in Australia.

Did you know that every day 98 men will have a heart attack and one in seven of these men will die? Women are also at high risk; heart disease is the biggest killer of women in Australia. Read on to discover simple ways to help you reduce your risk of heart disease and promote a healthy heart.


What is heart disease?

Coronary heart disease occurs when the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to your heart become clogged. The material which clogs your arteries is called plaque. The plaque slowly builds up causing your arteries to narrow. The narrowing of your arteries results in less blood being delivered to your heart muscle. This may cause angina, or chest pain. If a blood clot forms in the coronary artery this may cause a heart attack.

Heart Artery narrow diagram

Image: Blausen.com staff. "Blausen gallery 2014 Wikiversity Journal of Medicine"

5 simple ways to a healthier heart

Unfortunately, there is no magic pill that makes your heart healthy. Each of us have a different risk profile due to our gender, age, level of fitness and other lifestyle habits. The below ideas are generally accepted ways to maintain a healthy heart. As always we recommend discussing your heart health with your GP before taking any action.


Exercise

Get active for at least 30 minutes a day is recommended by the Heart Foundation. Suitable activities are anything which raises your heart rate: swimming, cycling, jogging or simply walking. Infact, walking for 30 minutes every day reduces your risk of heart disease by 50%. But, don’t forget about the rest of your day. Try to move more and sit less. Stand up and walk around during ad breaks for TV sessions on the couch, take calls away from your desk and even opt to stand on public transport.

Woman exercising for a healthy heart
Image: Credit Mike Baird

Quit smoking

Cigarette and tobacco smoke is a major cause of coronary heart disease, heart attacks and can even lead to stroke. Smoking by itself is a major yet preventable risk factor of heart disease. However, smokers also experience decreased exercise tolerance and increased blood pressure which further increase the risk of heart disease. Professor Emily Banks of ANU suggests that a smoker’s life expectancy is reduced by 10 years on average and those who smoked 10 cigarettes a day doubled their risk of premature death. Better Health note that after one year of not smoking your risk of heart attack is reduced by half. So there really isn’t any better time to quit than today.

Ashtray full of cigarettes


Watch your salt intake

High cholesterol is one of the six independent factors contributing to risk of heart disease. By limiting your salt intake to approximately six grams a day, you can reduce or control your cholesterol levels and greatly lessen your risk of heart attack or stroke.

Salt on table
Image: Credit STLBites.com

Oily fish and lots of fruit & veg

Nothing can replace a well balanced diet packed with lots of fruit and vegetables. The Heart Foundation recommend five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit every day. Moreover, you need to up your intake of oily fish for those precious omega-3 fats and decrease your intake of saturated fats contained in foods such as butter, cream and palm oil. Omega-3 fats are suggested to reduce inflammation in the body. Mayo Clinic advise that eating at least two serves of oily fish each week may decrease triglycerides, lower blood pressure, reduce blood clotting, decrease stroke and heart failure risk.

oily fish and veg meal on plate
Image: Credit By Shyqo (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Talk to your doctor

Your doctor is the single best source of information to assist you in making lifestyle choices to prevent or lower your risk of heart disease. You can ask your doctor for a healthy heart check and also find out what your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are. For more questions you can ask your doctor, check out this great informational resource by the Heart Foundation.

See you doctor for healthy heart information