Seven ways to keep your heart healthy

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Heart disease is a major cause of death in Australia. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, cardiovascular disease was the primary cause of death for 43,500 Australians in 2017 or 27% of all deaths that year. Of these, 43% were due to coronary heart disease, 19% due to stroke, and 11% due to heart failure and cardiomyopathy. Cardiovascular disease was a secondary cause in a further 41,400 deaths. With these figures in mind, it’s important to take care of your heart health and make sure you’re doing all you can to reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

1. Stop smoking

Smoking significantly increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. According to the Heart Foundation, if you smoke, your risk of having a heart attack is two times higher, your risk of stroke is three times higher, and your risk of angina is 20 times higher. If you’re a smoker, you’re also four times more likely to die of heart disease and three times more likely to die from sudden cardiac death. The good news is that if you quit smoking, your risk of a heart attack or stroke is halved after 12 months. After five to 15 years, your risk of stroke and coronary heart disease goes back to that of a non-smoker.

If you’re a smoker, it’s a good idea to talk to your doctor about advice for giving up smoking. You can also call Quitline on 13 78 48 or visit the Quitline website.

2. Check your alcohol intake

If you drink too much alcohol on a regular basis, you’re increasing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, high alcohol intake also contributes to a range of chronic diseases including liver disease, some cancers, and oral health disease.

To reduce your risk of alcohol related disease, you should follow the below guidelines for adults set by the Department of Health:

  • Drink no more than 10 standard drinks per week.
  • Drink no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.

You can check the standard drinks guide to get an idea of how much alcohol you’re really drinking or use a standard drink calculator. You can also find out more about how to reduce or quit alcohol at the Department of Health.

3. Watch your weight

According to the Department of Health, around two thirds of Australians adults are overweight or obese. If someone is overweight or obese, they’re at a higher risk of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease. They’re also at a higher risk of developing many other chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes, chronic kidney disease and osteoarthritis. If you’re overweight, it’s a good idea to try to get your weight back within a healthy range.

4. Stay active

To keep your heart healthy, the Heart Foundation recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on five days of the week. Moderate physical activity means exercise that makes you a bit breathless, but not too breathless to not have a conversation. If you spend a lot of time at work sitting at a desk or sitting in general during the day, it’s a good idea to try to get up and move around every 30 minutes. For more tips, read active workplaces at the Heart Foundation.

5. Watch your diet

The Heart Foundation recommends the following choices for a healthy diet:

  • plenty of fruit, vegetables and wholegrains
  • healthy proteins such as fish, seafood and legumes
  • healthy fat choices like nuts, seeds, avocados and olives
  • choosing herbs and spices instead of salt
  • unflavoured milk, yoghurt and cheese

If you already have high cholesterol or heart disease, the Heart Foundation recommends eating unflavoured reduced-fat milk, yoghurt, and cheese and less than seven eggs a week.

The Heart Foundation says that it’s ok to eat some red meat, but not too much. They suggest eating no more than 350g of unprocessed lean beef, lamb, veal or pork each week. This works out at between one and three meals a week. Research indicates that eating too much red meat does increase the risk of heart disease and stroke and may lead to weight gain. It’s also important to limit how much processed and deli meats you’re eating as there are links to heart disease and chronic conditions.  

6. Manage your blood cholesterol and blood pressure

High blood cholesterol and high blood pressure are both risk factors for heart disease. If you have either of these conditions, it’s important to work with your doctor to keep them under control. You can also read more about high blood cholesterol or high blood pressure at the Heart Foundation.

7. Get your heart checked

A heart health check is a regular check performed by your doctor. It helps you understand your risk factors for cardiovascular disease and how likely you are to have a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. A heart health check will usually involve your doctor asking you how often you exercise, whether you smoke, and what you eat. Your doctor will also ask about your family health history. Your doctor will also check your blood pressure and your blood cholesterol level. Your doctor can let you know your level of risk of developing heart disease and what measures you can take to reduce your risk.


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 healthcare professional.

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