Heart disease is the single biggest killer of Australians and one of the most significant burdens of disease. You can take control of your heart health by following 10 easy steps.
Heart disease (aka coronary heart disease or ischaemic heart disease), is the leading cause of death for Australians, with around 20,000 lives lost each year.
What is heart disease?
The two main clinical forms of heart disease are:
- heart attack — a sudden complete blockage of an artery that supplies blood to an area of your heart
- angina — pain or discomfort when your heart doesn’t receive enough blood and oxygen.
Heart disease occurs when your coronary arteries narrow and reduce blood flow to your heart. As fatty material (called plaque) builds up inside them, they become blocked. This process is called atherosclerosis.
What can you do?
By the time we’re 40 years old, our lifetime risk for heart disease is one in two for men, and one in three for women.
There is no single cause of heart disease, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing it. The ones you can’t control are called non-modifiable risk factors and include your age, gender, ethnicity, and family history.
The modifiable risk factors (the ones you can do something about) account for the majority of risk factors. An estimated 90 per cent of Australians have at least one. Fortunately, it’s not too difficult to improve the health of your heart. Here are our top 10 tips.
- Quit smoking
Giving up smoking is the most important thing you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease. Smoking damages the blood vessels that supply blood to our heart; reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood; and contributes to atherosclerosis.
- Lose the extra weight
Being overweight or obese increases your risk of heart disease. So if you’re carrying a few too many kilos, make an effort to lose them.
- Limit your alcohol
Excessive consumption of alcohol can lead to weight gain and may increase your blood pressure—both risk factors for heart disease. Australian guidelines recommend that both men and women should have no more than two standard drinks per day.
- Ditch the salt
Over time, consuming too much salt can contribute to high blood pressure—a risk for heart disease. Around 75 per cent of our daily salt intake comes from packaged and processed foods, so limit these types of foods, and always choose low-salt varieties.
- Move more
Around 65 per cent of Australians don’t move enough. Regular exercise helps with weight management, and reduces your risk of developing heart disease by controlling risk factors such as cholesterol and blood pressure.
- Eat a healthy diet
Eating well is extremely important for your heart. Focus on eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean protein, dairy products and whole grains. Avoid or limit foods that are high in salt, sugar and saturated fat, and limit the amount of processed foods you eat.
- Look after your mental health
Depression increases your risk of heart disease, as does feeling socially isolated, and lacking support. If you think you may be depressed, speak to your doctor.
- Know your family history
If other family members have a strong history of heart disease then your risk may be higher. You can work with your GP to manage this.
- See your GP
Have regular checks with your doctor to keep your heart in good health. High cholesterol and high blood pressure are both risks for heart disease, but you don’t know if they’re present unless you get them checked by your GP.
- Know the symptoms
Symptoms of a heart attack vary from person to person, so make sure you understand what they may be. They may include:
- discomfort or pain in your chest
- discomfort in your arms, shoulder, neck, jaw, or back
- shortness of breath
- cold sweats.
If you suspect you or someone you love is having a heart attack, dial 000 immediately.
While you may not be able to control all your risk factors for heart disease, living a healthy lifestyle will go a long way in reducing your overall risk.