You might not know but this week is National Wear Red Week. No, it’s not for Valentine’s Day — even though we always do appreciate dressing to a theme. Supported by Heart Research Australia, the week is for raising awareness around heart health. Specifically, cardiovascular disease, which affects 4.2 million Australians.
Each year, more than 60,000 heart attacks happen in Australia — and 30% of them are fatal. One issue? Doctors often don’t know who is “at risk”. A recently developed, ground-breaking new tool can help identify this, but due to financial reasons, it’s currently not widely available for clients.
Heart Health Tip #1: Get physical
Just like Australian icon Olivia Newton-John sang, let’s get physical. “There’s no substitute for being physically active,” said Dr Chagan. “Regular exercise is essential to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and it’s never too late to start exercising.”
She suggests finding ways to sneak in some movement wherever possible during a busy day — might we suggest exercise snacks? — and looking for “incidental ways” to move your body every day. These include taking the stairs instead of the lift, and parking further away from your destination so you have to walk that bit farther.
Heart Health Tip #2: Eat with your heart in mind
“Healthy eating can protect your heart and prevent you from developing heart disease,” Dr Chagan tells us. “Fruit and vegetables are some of the best foods for your heart, as they’re a source of folate, antioxidants, and fibre.” Healthy fats she recommends include avocados, olives, nuts and seeds — they can help lower your cholesterol.
Oh, and yes, you need to reduce your salt. Five grams is recommended; that’s about a teaspoon. Ways to reduce it? “Use herbs and spices to flavour food instead of salt, and eat a diet around fresh and unprocessed foods.”
Heart Health Tip #3: Stop putting off preventative health checks
In terms of your heart health, “It’s essential that people continue to have preventative screening tests in order to proactively manage their health”. If you’re curious as to why they’re so helpful, it’s because it helps your doctor identify any potential conditions early.
“Without testing for [high blood pressure and high cholesterol], it’s likely you won’t know whether you have those conditions.” These conditions can damage your heart, along with your blood vessels.
Heart Health Tip #4: Give up smoking
Australia’s tobacco control measures have reduced our smoking rates and deaths from lung cancer. A side effect of giving up smoking? Your risk of heart disease drops as soon as you quit.
“Within one day of not smoking, your heart rate slows down and your blood pressure drops slightly. Carbon monoxide levels return to normal, and the oxygen levels in your blood rise.”
Two or three months of not smoking? “Your ability to smell and taste improves, your lungs regain the ability to clean themselves, your risk of heart attack is greatly reduced.”
And when it comes to two to six years without cigarettes — your risk of developing coronary heart disease returns to a similar level as that of a non-smoker. Or as Dr Chagan says, “You’ll start reaping the benefits as soon as you quit.”
Time to take on these four heart health tips, and pop a red outfit on.