Do you know the single leading cause of death in Australia?
It’s incredible to think that heart disease takes the life of an Australian every 30 minutes, particularly since it’s a preventable condition that can usually be managed with lifestyle changes.
That’s why important to know your risks of heart disease and what you can do to lower your chances of a heart problem. Unfortunately, heart disease doesn’t usually become apparent until the condition is serious, with symptoms such as chest pain, also known as angina, or even a heart attack.
That’s why Bupa, the health and care organisation, created a free, online Healthy Heart Check.
The 60-second check helps you get a snapshot of your heart-disease risk by looking at factors including your blood pressure and cholesterol readings, weight and lifestyle habits to help you get a sense of whether your risk of heart trouble in the near future is low, medium or high.
As well as an indication of your risk, the Healthy Heart Check provides information tailored to your personal results designed to help you improve your heart and general health, which makes the tool a handy reminder to keep your efforts to be healthy on track, even if you’re not at an increased risk of heart disease.
As with any health guide, it’s not a replacement for professional advice, though, so if you have worries about your heart health, it’s best to speak to your doctor.
You can get your 60-second Healthy Heart Check here.
When it comes to heart disease, there are some risk factors you can’t change: your age (the risk generally increases with your increasing years), gender (men are more at risk than women, although the risk to women increases after menopause), ethnic background (some ethnicities are more at risk than others) and family history (having a family member who has had heart disease can impact your own risk level).
But if you want to reduce your risk of heart disease, or simply improve your overall health, there are risk factors you can impact with lifestyle changes.
Being above a healthy weight range, having high cholesterol or high blood pressure all increase your risk of heart disease, and are issues you should discuss with your doctor.
In general, however, eating an interesting variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, choosing wholegrain cereals when you eat bread, pasta and rice, opting for lean cuts of meat or other sources of protein, going for low-fat dairy foods, cutting your salt intake by eating less pre-packaged food and adding more oily fish such as tuna and salmon to your diet can help keep your cholesterol levels and blood pressure in a healthy range, as well as help you lose any excess weight.
Another well-known way to stay at a healthy weight and reduce your blood pressure is to stay active.
The national physical activity guidelines recommend trying to cut down the amount of time you spend seated and to incorporate some physical movement into everything you do, such as by putting some extra vigour into the housework or hopping off the bus one stop early and walking the rest of the way home. Remember to check with your doctor before you start any new or increased intensity physical activity to make sure it’s appropriate for you.
Smoking increases the risk of heart problems in several ways, the Heart Foundation explains; it reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, contributes to your arteries becoming narrow and clogged and makes blood vessels more susceptible to damage – all of which make smokers four times more likely to die of heart disease-related conditions such as heart attacks and strokes. That makes ditching cigarettes a priority step in reducing your risk of heart disease.
Your health professional can advise you on the best ways to quit smoking, whether that be through nicotine replacement therapy, prescription medication or another method.
The link between alcohol and heart disease isn’t always clear, according to Australian government health information, but we know that it can interfere with efforts to keep to a healthy weight and get the nutrients you need, which can increase your risk of heart disease.
It’s also known that long-term, heavy drinking can cause high blood pressure and even weaken the heart muscle, which means it can’t pump blood properly. The government defines heavy drinking as more than three standard drinks per day, but cautions that it’s difficult to know how alcohol may affect your heart health because the outcome depends not just on the amount you drink but also your drinking patterns and your age.
The official recommendation is to limit yourself to two standard drinks a day if you choose to drink to reduce the risk of alcohol-related diseases.