Heart disease kills one Australian every 27 minutes, and 9 in 10 people have at least one risk factor for heart disease. But there are things you can do to reduce your risk and keep your heart healthy, and ways you can help spread awareness of this silent killer. Here are just some of them.
- Quit smoking. Cigarettes increase the risk of heart disease both for men and women. Interestingly, research shows that women who smoke have a 25% greater risk of coronary heart disease than male smokers, says Julie Anne Mitchell, the Heart Foundation national spokesperson on women’s health. "The reasons for this are unclear but the influence of sex hormones is known to play a part," she says. Ready to ditch the cigarettes, regardless of your gender? Follow the tips here and get help via Quitnow.
- Move more. Baker Heart & Diabetes Institute researchers found that just 2 years of regular aerobic exercise could reverse the risk of heart failure, in middle-aged people, that is linked with years of sitting. "Sedentary behaviours — such as sitting for long periods of time — increase the likelihood of the heart muscle shrinking and stiffening in late middle age, and increases the risk of developing heart failure," explains study author, Dr Erin Howden. Aim for moderate- or high-intensity aerobic training on 4 or more days per week (but consult your doctor before starting).
- Seek help for depression. Evidence suggests that depression is a significant, independent risk factor for heart disease, says the Heart Foundation's Ms Mitchell. "It's not exactly clear how the mechanism works but having depression can lead to higher cortisol levels in the blood," she says. "Releasing too much of this stress hormone can, over time, make the blood vessels narrower." Depression is often linked with other heart disease risk factors, she adds. "For example, people who are depressed are more likely to smoke, have a poor diet and be overweight." Speak with your doctor about managing depression or visit beyondblue for advice.
- Control your blood pressure. Almost half of all Australians will have high blood pressure (hypertension), a leading risk factor for heart disease, by the time they reach 70 years of age. But it's highly treatable and lowering your blood pressure can reduce the risk of heart disease. Have your blood pressure checked by your doctor and if it's higher than 130/80 mmHg, discuss ways to lower it through lifestyle changes such as reducing salt intake, increasing exercise, and managing weight.
- Wear red to 'keep hearts beating'. This Valentine's Day, February 14, is Wear Red Day. Don something red in memory of someone you've lost to heart disease, to boost awareness of heart disease or to raise funds for life-saving heart research. You can share photos on social media using the hashtag #wearredday. Discover more ways to help, any time of the year, at Heart Research Australia.
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