6 top tips for a healthy heart

11th Jun 2018 | LIFESTYLE | ENRICH LIVING

According to the Heart Foundation, Cardiovascular disease (CVD), which encompasses heart, stroke and blood vessel diseases, claimed the lives of 43,603 Australians (30% of all deaths) in 2013, and affects one in six Australians. Coronary heart disease specifically, often simply referred to as heart disease, is the single leading cause of death in Australia with 350,000 Australians estimated to suffer a heart attack at some point in their lives. However, lowering or even preventing your risk of heart diseases can be achieved through a number of simple lifestyle changes and by altering your diet.

Here are our top 6 tips to help keep your heart in tip top condition.

Quit smoking

After 12 months of quitting smoking tobacco, your heart thanks you for it as your increased risk of dying from heart disease becomes half that of a continuing smoker. After 15 years of not smoking your risk of a heart attack and stroke is nearly as low as someone who has never smoked. It can be tough but there are lots of resources to help you quit smoking. A great place to start is quitnow.gov.au.

Eat a balanced diet and reduce salt intake

Weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels are a major factor in reducing the risk of heart disease. Eating nutritional foods and maintaining a balanced diet will ensure you are on the right track to keeping a healthy ticker.

It’s well known that too much salt in our diets can lead to higher blood pressure but more often than not the salt we consume goes unnoticed. In fact up to 75% of our daily salt intake can be hidden in breakfast cereals, bread, cheese and processed meats. Consuming less than 6 grams of salt per day is recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease – that’s the equivalent of one teaspoon of salt per day.

The most effective way to reduce salt intake and lower cholesterol is to eat a balanced diet consisting of: fresh fruit and berries; red, yellow, orange and green vegetables; legumes; dark beans; whole grains; nuts such as almonds and walnuts; seeds; meat; and poultry. It’s also important to incorporate oily fish into your diet such as salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel, herring and trout, which are all rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, as these boost your good cholesterol. As a treat, you’ll be pleased to learn that eating dark chocolate with at least 70% cocoa content is also good for your heart.

Meal prep salmon and vegetables on wooden chopping board

Limit alcohol consumption

Heavy alcohol consumption in the short term raises stress levels and causes reduced circulation. Longer term effects include high blood pressure and heart muscle damage, which can in turn increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. For both women and men, limiting your alcohol intake to no more than 2 standard drinks per day lowers the lifetime risk of alcohol-associated heart issues. A standard drink is equivalent to 100ml of wine, one nip/shot (30ml) of spirits, or one can/stubbie of mid-strength beer.

The good news is your blood pressure begins to reduce as quickly as 2-4 weeks after you reduce your alcohol intake. Perhaps more surprisingly a small glass of red wine (up to 2 for men and 1 for women per day) can actually help improve good HDL cholesterol levels, although red wine can increase blood pressure in some people.

Exercise regularly

Any regular, moderate to vigorous physical activity is key for maintaining a healthy heart. A brisk walk each day for at least 30 minutes can reduce your risk of heart attack by one third but even sitting less can greatly improve your cardio health.

For a healthier heart we recommend trying to incorporating one or a combination of the following types of exercises:

• Muscle strengthening activities including seated arms raises and leg lifts
• Abdominal exercises like seated knee lifts
• Balance exercises such as practising walking heel-to-toe
• Stretching including leg and chest stretches
• Aerobic exercises including walking or light jogging.

Even doing household jobs such as vacuuming or cleaning the windows counts as moderate intensity exercise. Aiming to do at least one form of exercise will ensure your heart is healthier and your body will feel more active and energised. Remember, it’s important to consult your doctor prior to being involved in any new exercises.

Physio at home lady holding two small weights

Find time to truly unwind

It’s important to learn how to properly relax when you feel your body becoming tense. Exercise is one way to help your body handle stress but there are many less active alternatives. When under pressure, the body produces more of the three stress hormones – adrenaline, norepinephrine and cortisol – which increase the heart rate and blood pressure. By relaxing you help stave off the stress hormones. Do what works for you to relax and listen to your body!

You can try meditation, aromatherapy, massage, reading a book, filling in an adult colouring book, sketching, stretching, cuddling your pet, or listening to your favourite music. Do whatever it is that helps you de-stress and find some peace, to help relax your heart. Your GP may help with some extra recommendations about keeping calm and relaxed.

Keep socially connected

Sometimes you might not feel like reaching out, but maintaining strong family relationships, and friendship groups goes a long way to help reduce the risk of heart conditions. It is important to be surrounded by people you know to avoid becoming socially isolated, especially when suffering from dementia, depression or other mental health issues. There is always someone to talk to whether it be a family member, a friend, a home support worker, a doctor or a supportive group. A happy and positive frame of mind means a healthy heart and a reduced chance of developing heart disease or having a heart attack. By combining the above 6 steps you will significantly improve the health of your heart.

Your GP, your health professional, or our clinical team can help you figure out if you should make any changes to your lifestyle whilst offering help and advice along the way based on your current health needs and goal.

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