Protect yourself from heart disease

09 Aug 2016

Cardiovascular disease is the single leading cause of death in Australia, claiming a staggering 54 Australians each day or one Australian every 27 minutes. There are measures you can take to help prevent heart disease from affecting you, but unfortunately there are also some risk factors you can’t change.

What you can change

The good news is that you can reduce your overall risk of developing cardiovascular heart disease by leading a healthy lifestyle and taking medicines as prescribed by your doctor.

  • Smoking: As well as causing cancer, smoking affects the arteries that supply blood to your heart and other parts of your body. It reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, makes blood clots more likely and damages your artery walls. Smoking increases your risk of heart attack, stroke and peripheral arterial disease (which can lead to gangrene and limb amputation).
  • High cholesterol: High total cholesterol causes fatty material to gradually build up in coronary arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through. It is mainly caused by eating foods high in saturated fats and trans fats.
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure can overload your heart and coronary arteries, and speed up the artery-clogging process. This can lead to problems such as heart attack and stroke. If high blood pressure is not treated, your heart may weaken because of the constant extra demand. This may cause ‘heart failure’, a serious condition with symptoms such as tiredness, shortness of breath and swelling of the feet and ankles.
  • Diabetes: If you have diabetes, it is important that you manage your condition by regularly checking your blood sugar, being physically active, enjoying healthy eating and maintaining a healthy weight. If you have diabetes, you may need to take medicines to help you to maintain normal blood-glucose levels, as well as make lifestyle changes.
  • Inactivity: Physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous. Moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, is great for your health. We recommend that you do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most, if not all, days of the week. You can do this in smaller bouts, such as three 10-minute walks, if it is easier.
  • Being overweight: Carrying extra weight around your middle (being ‘apple-shaped’) is more of a health risk, so it is especially important for you to lose weight if this is the case. To achieve a healthy body weight, exercise regularly, up your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and cut down on alcohol.>
  • Depression: Studies have shown that some people, those with depression, those who are socially isolated, or do not have quality social support, are at greater risk of developing heart disease. Depression can be treated with medical and non-medical therapies. If you think that you have depression, talking to your health professional is the best first step.

What you can’t change

  • Your age: As you get older, your risk of heart disease increases.
  • Your sex: Men over the age of 45 and women over the age of 55 or postmenopausal women are at greater risk of heart disease.
  • Family history: Your risk of heart disease is increased if close family members – parents, siblings or children – developed heart disease before age 55 or, in the case of female relatives, before menopause.
  • Ethnicity: Some ethnicities are more prone to heart disease than others – this includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and South Asians.