Heart disease kills more Australians than any other condition — it’s the cause of one in five of all deaths in Australia. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Heart disease isn’t inevitable with age, as shown in a study published in The Lancet in 2017. After studying an indigenous tribe living in the Bolivian Amazon, researchers found the lowest reported levels of coronary artery disease of any population so far recorded.
Their secret is not really a secret at all. We’ve known for years what steps will reduce your risk of heart disease and this is exactly what the Amazonian tribe do. They are naturally physically active and while not vegetarian, eat a plant-based diet high in unrefined carbohydrates.
We may not live in the Amazon but we can take their lead and make some immediate changes.
6 steps to a healthy heart
There are six easy steps to improving your heart health – change 3 habits and get 3 checks.
3 habits to adopt right now
- Get a move on.
Activity is key to nearly every aspect of your health including protecting your heart. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise at least five times a week. Hit the treadmill, walk around your neighbourhood, go for a swim or visit the gym – whatever best fits into your lifestyle.
- Eat right 90 per cent of the time. Base your meals around plant foods – fruit, vegetables, wholegrains, legumes, nuts and seeds – and include healthy fats like olive oil, small amounts of red meat and fatty fish like salmon and mackerel.
- Chill out. Chronic mental or emotional stress is now believed to be a true risk factor for heart problems. Any way you can reduce your stress load – yoga, meditation, walking your dog, reading, playing music or socialising – will benefit your heart.
3 checks you must have
- Blood pressure. What you don’t know can hurt you. The biggest risk factor for both heart disease and stroke is high blood pressure, says The Heart Foundation. High blood pressure is called a silent killer because there are no obvious symptoms so many people don’t realise they have it.
- Cholesterol. Total cholesterol is not as useful to know as the levels of the harmful cholesterol (LDL) and the beneficial type (HDL). For best results, make sure both are measured after you’ve been fasting overnight. However you can still get a general idea of your cholesterol levels even if you haven’t fasted overnight.
- Blood sugar. Even if you don’t have diabetes too much sugar in your blood can damage your arteries, so ensure you get this checked too.
These three checks are generally conducted together and form the basis of a heart health check. The results of a heart health check are often a critical wake-up call for anyone at risk.