Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia. According to The Heart Foundation, one Australian has a heart attack every 10 minutes, and heart disease claims the life of one Australian every 28 minutes.
The good news, however, is that heart disease can largely be prevented by making some simple lifestyle changes. February is Heart Research Month, which aims to raise awareness about the devastating impact heart disease has on families, friends and communities. Starts at 60 spoke to Dr Ross Walker for his advice on how to keep your heart healthy.
Smoking increases your risk of heart disease, stroke and coronary artery disease. One study published in JAMA found quitting smoking can reduce a heavy smoker’s risk of heart disease within five years.
“If you smoke, quitting is the single most important step you can take to protect the health of your heart,” Walker says.
Getting a good night’s sleep is important for your heart health, too. Dr Walker encourages you to practice good habits in the bedroom. If possible, try to maintain a cool room temperature and avoid bright light from electronic devices. Too much exposure to night-time blue light (through smart phones, tablets and computers), can lead to a number of negative health outcomes, including difficulty sleeping, weight gain and heart disease.
“Aim to go to bed at the same time every night, following the same pattern, whether it’s a bath, some time reading, or listening to relaxing music,” Walker advises.
Eating a varied diet of healthy foods can also help ward off heart disease. Walker says people looking to improve their heart health should switch to a Mediterranean diet — a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, olive oil, beans, wheat and rice, but limited in red meats and poultry.
Recent studies have shown that incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet offers a number of health benefits including a lower risk of heart disease.
Walker recommends replacing lean meats like poultry and fish with vegetarian options, such as tofu, quinoa, mushrooms, lentils, chickpeas and beans.
“Other vegetables that have an excellent source of protein are artichokes, asparagus, broccoli, brussels sprouts, collards, corn, potatoes, peppers, spinach, sweet potatoes and turnip greens,” he says.
“The benefits of exercise stretch far beyond your waistband — exercise actually strengthens your heart,” Walker says.
Regular exercise has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, lower your blood pressure, improve blood circulation and protect from blood clotting. Try to aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a day. If you’re just beginning to exercise, start by making small adjustments, like choosing to take the stairs, power walking, or even dancing.
Walker reckons incorporating supplements into your daily diet is also a good idea. Supplements can provide you with extra nutrients when you’re missing key vitamins and minerals or when certain health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, or hypertension, trigger a deficiency.
Walker says ubiquinol, the active form of Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10), promotes and helps maintain a healthy heart. You can also get ubiquinol through foods like broccoli, citrus fruits, nuts (such as pistachios, peanuts and sesame seeds), tuna, salmon, trout, pork, chicken and avocado.
Yes, you read that right, being happier doesn’t just make you feel better — it could save your life. One study published in JAMA found optimism is linked to a lower risk of heart disease.
IMPORTANT LEGAL INFO This article is of a general nature and FYI only, because it doesn’t take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. That means it’s not personalised health advice and shouldn’t be relied upon as if it is. Before making a health-related decision, you should work out if the info is appropriate for your situation and get professional medical advice.
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