About heart health

Heart health

Heart disease is the leading underlying cause of death in Australia. Someone in Australia suffers a heart attack every ten minutes. These are sad statistics considering that many of the conditions that affect the health of your heart are preventable.

Coronary heart disease

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is the umbrella term for any condition that reduces blood flow to your heart, largely through narrowing of your arteries. CHD is the most common cause of heart attacks.

The risk of CHD can be lifelong for some people. For others, the risk increases with age or lifestyle.

CHD happens when your arteries become narrow or blocked. Fatty deposits, known as plaque, can build up and limit blood flow to your heart. Some forms of plaque can cause blood clots that partially or completely stop the flow of blood. That’s when you suffer a heart attack.

Often, the only indication that something serious is wrong might be pain or discomfort in your chest. The chest pain associated with CHD is known as angina.

Coronary heart disease is largely preventable in many people through simple lifestyle changes.

Other common heart conditions include arrythmia, (the term used to describe abnormal rhythms in your heartbeat), rheumatic heart disease, heart failure and stroke.

It’s important that you seek medical attention if you sense any unusual rhythm in your heart or if you feel any pain or discomfort in your chest.

How to reduce your risk of coronary heart disease

Lifestyle changes are key to helping prevent coronary heart disease.

  • do regular exercise
  • follow a balanced diet
  • stop smoking
  • reach a healthy weight
  • manage diabetes
  • reduce high blood pressure
  • lower cholesterol
  • look after your mental health

Read more on these below.

  1. Get regular exercise

    Regular physical activity lowers your chance of a heart attack. Ideally, you should aim to do something active every day of the week.

    Anything is better than nothing. Even a gentle jog once a week, for less than an hour, can cut your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 30 percent. Although, current guidelines for adults recommend between 150 and 300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise each week.

    Moderate intensity exercise is anything that makes you breath harder while you can still hold a conversation. Brisk walking, digging in the garden, washing windows or playing a light game of tennis all qualify.

    Vigorous activity could include running, mountain biking, competitive tennis or group exercise routines. These will all get your blood pumping and your heart rate up. If you can’t hold a conversation, you’re in the right zone!

    If you’re not used to vigorous exercise be sure to check with your doctor before you start.

    High intensity interval training (HIIT) is thought to be one of the best forms of vigorous exercise for all ages. With high intensity interval training, you switch between short bursts of intense activity and periods of rest or reduced activity. For example, a super-fast lap of swimming, followed by a rest or a slow lap.

    The best thing about HIIT is you don’t have to work out for as long as other types of exercise. Even just a few minutes at a time can boost your metabolism and improve your heart health.

  2. Follow a sensible diet

    A healthy diet consists of daily serves of:

    • fresh fruit and vegetables
    • grain foods (largely wholegrain) such as bread, barley, rice, pasta, noodles
    • protein (fish, eggs, milk, lean meat, nuts and legumes/beans)
    • milk, yogurt, cheese, or their alternatives

    Limit your intake of processed foods that are high in saturated fats, salt (sodium) and added sugars, drink more water and reduce your alcohol intake. Most Australians don’t eat enough vegetables. That applies to over 90% of women and 96% of men.

    Early research show that intermittent fasting (IF) can have protective effects on several types of heart disease.

    The 5:2 diet involves drastically reducing the number of calories you consume on two days a week and eating normally for the remaining five. Another popular pattern involves fasting for 16 hours a day. This could mean finishing your evening meal by 8pm and skipping breakfast the next day. Intermittent fasting isn’t for everyone, and can be dangerous if you have certain medical conditions (like type 1 diabetes for example). Please see your healthcare professional before embarking on an IF eating plan.

  3. Quit smoking

    Smoking damages your blood vessels and reduces the oxygen in your blood. Smoking increases your risk of heart attack, stroke and angina. Get help to quit with our CBHS Wellbeing program.

  4. Reach and/or maintain a healthy weight

    If you’re overweight, you can cut your risk of heart disease by losing weight.

    Over half a million Australians have lost weight and improved their nutritional intake by following the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet. It’s a scientifically formulated program with exercises, meal plans and tracking tools to keep you motivated.

    Your CBHS health cover entitles you to a 15% discount off the 12-week CSIRO program.

    Health tip: Limit consumption of sugary drinks. Fruit juice might sound healthy, but it’s very high in sugar. Eat whole fruit instead.

  5. Manage diabetes

    If you have diabetes, you’re more likely to develop heart disease, especially if you don’t manage your blood glucose levels well. High levels of blood glucose can damage your heart, which increases your risk of having a heart attack.

    The good news is you can do something about it.

    Australian Dietary Guidelines also apply to people with diabetes, while Diabetes Australia offers specific dietary advice that can help you manage diabetes.

    The CBHS Better Living program can help you manage the complications associated with diabetes. Contact the CBHS Wellness Team on 1300 174 534. They’ll check your level of cover to see if you’re eligible to participate.

  6. Reduce high blood pressure

    If your blood pressure’s too high, your heart will be working too hard. Blood pressure changes all the time, but persistently high blood pressure is one of the main risk factors for heart disease.

    There are many lifestyle factors that can help keep your blood pressure down without the need for medication. Ways to help lower your blood pressure naturally:

    • Exercise regularly
    • Drink less alcohol
    • Stay hydrated with water
    • Consume less salt
    • Achieve a healthy weight
    • Learn to manage stress
    • Reduce caffeine intake and energy drinks

    Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to a heart attack or stroke, so don’t ignore it. Talk to your doctor about the best way to control your blood pressure.

    This might involve lifestyle changes and/or medication.

    Health tip: Don’t rely on medication alone to fix high blood pressure. It’s still important to follow a healthy lifestyle.

  7. Lower cholesterol

    There’s good and bad cholesterol. Too much bad cholesterol (LDL) can lead to narrowing of your blood vessels that could turn into a heart attack or stroke. But, like in the movies, the good cholesterol guys (HDL) can help minimise the damage caused by the bad guys (LDL).

    Once again, exercise and diet are crucial factors to help prevent high cholesterol. However, for some, genes might be the cause and medication could be the only way to manage it.

    Limit your consumption of saturated fats (found in fatty cuts of meat, processed small goods, full-fat dairy and coconut oil, cream and milk) and get rid of ‘trans fats’ that are often found in processed foods, chocolate spreads and mass-produced cakes and pastries.

    Eat more soluble fibre (found in food such as oats, beans and brussels sprouts) and healthy fats found in seeds, nuts, olive oil and avocado. The fats in these foods help lower the LDL cholesterol.

  8. Treat anxiety, stress and depression

    A recent study found that sufferers of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) were twice as likely as the general population to experience heart problems.

    People facing mental health problems are less likely to exercise. That’s a vicious circle because exercise can be a great non-medical addition to treatment plans for disorders like anxiety, stress and depression. It may even prevent such issues occurring in the first place.

    Depression, stress and anxiety are no less real than a broken leg. CBHS Wellness Benefits includes cover for stress management programs that could help. Members on top cover are also eligible to participate in the Best Doctors Mental Health Navigator program.

Check your heart health

Want to know how healthy your heart might be? Take a few simple tests and find out

Body mass

If you’re overweight, you’re more likely to develop heart disease. Check your Body Mass Index (BMI). Note that BMI is a guide only and won’t take into account your individual circumstances like ethnicity, age or muscle mass in active population groups .

Waist measurement

Your waist measurement can be a guide to how much internal fat may have built up around your heart. Check your waist measurement to find out how you shape up.

Heart age

If your heart age is higher than your actual age, you’re at greater risk of a heart attack. Use this heart age calculator to check your result.

Check your pulse

You may be able to detect an irregular heartbeat by checking your pulse. Find out the best way to check your pulse.

Heart health check

If you’re over 45, you’re eligible for a free heart health check from your doctor.

Are you at risk?

Find out what your CVD risk score is.

Tell your doctor

You can download the results of this handy health check guide and take them to your doctor.

Warning signs

If you think you might be having a heart attack, stop what you’re doing, tell someone or call 000 immediately.

What is it?

A heart attack happens when a blood vessel supplying blood to the heart suddenly becomes blocked. It can be life-threatening.

What are the warning signs?

Pain, pressure, heaviness or tightness in your chest, neck, jaw, arms, back or shoulders.

You might also experience nausea, dizziness, a cold sweat or feel short of breath.

The Heart Foundation has a useful action plan

If you think you’re having a heart attack call Triple Zero immediately.

All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified health care professional.

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