It is not often that we stop to consider just how important heart health is at the age of sixty. But it is. Heart disease affects one in six Australians, and kills one Australian every 12 minutes. And as you get older, your risks increase. So we asked Christine Wong, an accredited practicing dietitian at Bupa, to share some tips for heart health.
With this week marking World Heart Day, why not check your heart health by doing a Heart Age Check?
1) Quitting smoking is important
Smoking is the biggest single risk factor for heart disease. If you smoke you are twice as likely to have a heart attack compared to a non-smoker, and three times as likely to have a stroke.
If you need help quitting, you can call Quitline (13 784 8) and get advice from professional counsellors. Christine suggests a good way to quit smoking is to go cold turkey. “In the long term cutting down over time is not as effective as going cold turkey. If that doesn’t work, speaking to your doctor or contact Quitline as they can discuss some strategies that can help”.
2) Exercise regularly
For heart health Christine recommends a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise at a moderate physical intensity level each day.
“The type of exercise you choose needs to cause a slight increase in your heart rate, and it needs to be continued for bursts of at least 10 minutes at a time. You can choose to do your 30 minutes in three ten minute bursts that add up to 30 minutes throughout the day if you choose, so long as you maintain the intensity”.
“Whilst incidental activity is important, research shows that moderate intensity exercise will strengthen the heart muscle and helps improve your heart health”.
Christine highlighted three types of exercise that are effective, walking, swimming and riding a bike. “Walking is a good way to get moderate intensity exercise, and all you need is a good pair of shoes and good weather. Riding a bike is also good, and you can choose to use a pushbike or an exercise bike
And swimming, especially if you suffer from joint pain, knee pain or arthritis, is a very effective, low weight-bearing exercise”.
3) Maintain a healthy waist measurement
Your waist measurement is also important to your heart health, and that surprises a lot of people.
“Many of us focus on our weight, or say we’re at the right BMI and just assume that means our hearts are healthy, but that is not the case. Where the weight sits is an important determinant in your risk of heart disease and one we all need to be focused on”.
If your focus is to decrease your risk of future heart disease, working to lose weight from around your waist is an important priority.
4) Limit alcohol intake
Christine was adamant on this; regular high alcohol intake over a long period of time can lead to high blood pressure, high triglycerides and increases the risk of stroke and disease of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy).
“As a general rule, most people shouldn’t be having more than two standard drinks per day. If they have an existing heart condition you may need to be aiming lower than this”.
5) Go for regular checkups.
Regardless of whether you think you are at risk of heart problems you should go for regular checkups with your doctor to check your:
a) blood pressure
c) blood sugar levels
It’s important to have regular checkups as a lot of people think they are “fine” but often we don’t know what is going on on the inside until we go for a blood check. Go, talk to your doctor about heart health and get these checkups.
6) Limit your saturated fat intake
A diet high in saturated fats can increase your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. High levels of LDL cholesterol in your blood increases your risk of developing blockages in the arteries. Animal based fats are predominantly saturated and can be found in chicken, red meat, full fat dairy products and butter and cream. There are also some vegetable oils that are predominantly saturated, such as palm and coconut oil.
7) Include healthy fats in your diet
It is recommended to include a moderate amount of healthy fats or unsaturated fats in your diet, every day for good heart health. These healthy fats can be found in things like avocadoes, oily fish, margarine, nuts, and vegetable oils apart from palm or coconut oils.
“It is recommended to have 2-3 serves of fish every week, preferably oily fish like tuna, salmon and sardines”.
8) Reduce your salt intake
Salt is something we can all do with a little less of. According to Christine, we should be consuming no more than 6 grams of salt per day, however most of us will be consuming far in excess of this, perhaps more than 9 grams, a far sight more.
“The best way to reduce salt is to avoid processed and packaged foods. About 75% of salt intake comes from those types of foods so eliminating or reducing them as much as possible is key. Go fresh and whole as much as possible.
And if you have got to go for canned, processed or packaged food, go for the low-salt options if available,” says Christine.
With heart disease being the single leading cause of death over the age of 60, keeping your heart healthy is important. To get a better snapshot, you can check your “heart age” online.