Simple Ways to Check Your Heart Health
Heart, stroke, and blood vessel diseases are leading causes of death in Australia. Cardiovascular disease kills one Australian every 12 minutes, and affects one in six of the population.
Many people don’t know they are suffering from cardiovascular disease or CVD until it’s too late – a heart attack or stroke is often the first indication of CVD. 90% of Australians have at least one risk factor for heart disease.
However, it is possible to drastically reduce your risk of developing CVD and keep your heart healthy by living a healthy lifestyle. Here are some simple ways to check your heart function and keep you heart healthy.
Check Your Heart Rate
Counting your pulse is an easy way to your check your heart rate. Feeling the pulse can also detect irregularities in the heart beat. Your pulse should beat at a steady pace. See your Doctor if you notice skipped beats or an irregular rate.
To measure your heart rate, find your pulse point on your inner wrist, just below the base of your thumb. Use the index and middle finger of your other hand to feel your pulse and set a timer for 30 seconds. Count how many times you feel your pulse for 30 seconds and multiply this by two to get your heart rate.
A healthy heart rate for adults is usually around 60 to 100 beats per minute. If you’re very fit, you may have a heart rate lower than this, although a very slow rate may also be cause for concern. Check with your doctor if your heart rate is lower than 60 beats a minute, unless you are undergoing athletic training.
A heart rate over 100 beats a minute is called tachycardia and can be a sign of heart disease or another underlying health condition. However, temporary tachycardia may be caused by exercise, anxiety, caffeine, and other factors.
Check Your Blood Pressure
Your blood pressure is a measure of how much pressure your arteries are under when your heart is pumping blood around your body. The measurement is made up of two figures:
- Systolic blood pressure, which is the pressure when your heart squeezes
- Diastolic blood pressure, when your heart is relaxed.
You’ll need a blood pressure monitor to check this accurately. You can buy one for use at home or ask for your blood pressure to be checked at your doctor’s surgery and at many pharmacies around the country.
A normal blood pressure reading for adults is 120 over 80 or lower. If your reading is 130 over 80 or higher, this means you have hypertension or high blood pressure.
Consistently high blood pressure is concerning as it can restrict blood flow to the heart, which may eventually lead to a heart attack. However, temporary high blood pressure may be caused by physical activity or stress. It is best to take a number of readings over time, preferably when you are resting and feeling relaxed.
Low blood pressure is not always a cause for concern, as you may just have naturally low blood pressure. However, if your readings are consistently lower than 90 over 60 and you are experiencing other symptoms such as dizziness or fatigue, you should see a doctor for further investigation.
A third way to check how well your heart is functioning is to have a blood test to measure your cholesterol and blood glucose and compounds including sodium, potassium, creatinine, and albumin.
A high cholesterol reading means that you have fatty deposits in your blood, and you are more at risk of heart disease.
A high glucose reading may indicate that you have Diabetes which is a strong risk factor for developing heart disease.
Levels of other compounds that are too high or too low may indicate that your organs such as liver and kidneys are not functioning efficiently. This can be an indication of heart failure.
Your doctor may suggest that you have a blood test if you are over the age of 40; your heart rate and blood pressure are abnormal; you have a family history of heart disease or if you’re at high risk of developing CVD.
How to Keep Your Heart Healthy
Lifestyle factors are one of the biggest causes of CVD, although being over 50, male, having a family history of CVD, or being of South Asian or Afro-Caribbean heritage increases your risk too.
Many risk factors for heart disease can be reduced.
Some ways you can reduce your risk of CVD include:
- Stop smoking – smokers have narrower blood vessels, which increases blood pressure and puts more strain on the heart.
- Eat a healthy diet – eat plenty of fruit and vegetables and fibre. Keep foods high in saturated fat to a minimum. Reduce levels of salt in your diet, as salt can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of heart disease.
- Exercise regularly – regular cardiovascular exercise (activities that make you breathe hard and your heart pump faster) can reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood and improve your heart health.
- Avoid stress– everyone experiences stress from time to time, but chronic stress can make your blood pressure high for long periods, which increases your risk of CVD and heart attack. Women who work highly stressful jobs have a 40% increased risk of heart disease.
- Lose weight if you’re overweight– if you have a BMI of over 25 or your waist circumference is over 80cm (for women) or 94cm (for men) then you have a higher risk of developing heart disease.. Use a healthy diet and regular exercise to maintain a healthy weight.
For more information on how we can help you maximise your heart health click here.