We take a look at what contributes to heart disease and some of the most effective ways to prevent heart disease.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease, also referred to as cardiovascular disease, is a term used to describe a range of serious conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels. Some of these are inherited, yet many can occur from poor lifestyle choices like smoking, not exercising and not eating well.
Some of the most common forms of heart disease include:
- Arrhythmias – when your heart beats too fast or too slow or irregularly
- Coronary artery disease – a build-up of plaque (a waxy substance) in your coronary arteries
- Heart failure – when your heart isn’t able to pump blood as effectively as it should
- Heart valve disease – occurs when one or more of your heart’s four valves don’t open and close properly
- Pulmonary hypertension – a type of high blood pressure that occurs in the arteries in the lungs, resulting in your heart struggling to pump blood into your lungs
According to The Heart Foundation, heart disease is a major cause of death in Australia and affects around 1.4 million of us every year. It’s estimated to take the life of one Australian every twenty seven minutes.
The most common heart disease risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight or obese, not exercising, not eating a nutritious diet, drinking too much alcohol and smoking as well as family history.
If you think you could be at risk of heart disease, it’s important you visit your doctor for a check-up.
Many of the risk factors for heart disease are lifestyle-related, so the good news is that you can reduce your risk by managing your behaviours. Here are some tips for curbing the risk factors that contribute to heart disease:
- Smoking – quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart health, and there is plenty of help available; get started today by seeing your doctor or phoning 13 7848 (13 QUIT)
- Alcohol – aim to keep your alcohol intake to no more than 2 drinks per day and have a couple of alcohol-free days every week
- Stress – high stress can cause you to engage in more of those risky behaviours, like smoking, drinking and eating poor foods, so look for ways to reduce stressors
Diet & exercise
A heart-healthy diet and regular exercise will help to reduce your risk of heart disease. Here are some tips to get you started.
A heart-healthy diet
Eating well to support your heart involves a combination of eating healthy foods and limiting unhealthy foods.
Consuming a lot of high-fat, high-salt foods can lead to high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels. So aim to limit or cut out fast food, fried food (eg chips), processed foods (eg biscuits, crisps).
There’s an increasing amount of research looking at the best foods to eat for a healthy heart, and some of the more recent research has suggested that the following foods are beneficial:
- Whole-grain foods and berries – these can both reduce your risk of a heart attack
- Fruits and vegetables – eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables is a key step to keep you healthy, and one study suggested that those who ate a high amount of fresh fruits and vegetables were less likely to develop heart disease later in life
- Fish – regularly eating fish is thought to lower your risk of heart failure, and it’s recommended you aim for 2-3 servings of oily fish (sardines, mackerel, salmon) per week
The Heart Foundation also recommend regular consumption of garlic, foods containing vitamin E, nuts, seeds, tea, legumes and soy to help prevent heart disease.
Regular exercise will help to reduce your risk of heart disease, and it also has many other health benefits, too – like reducing stress, maintaining energy levels, boosting your mood and helping to maintain a healthy weight.
Not exercising regularly can lead to weight gain and this puts extra strain on your heart. Aim to work up to 20-30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise, 3-4 times per week.
If you haven’t exercised in a while, start slowly. Try a 10-minute walk around the block, take the stairs instead of the lift, and park several blocks away from where you need to be.
Giving up your favourite foods and exercising when you haven’t worked out in a while can seem daunting, but there is help available and you don’t have to go through it alone. Reach out to friends, family members and your local health professional. Also, you don’t need to make dramatic lifestyle changes instantly – you can start slowly and ease into your new habits.