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Heart disease, or cardiovascular disease, has one of the highest mortality rates of any condition/disease in Australia. It is estimated that over 100 Australian’s die per day from heart disease.

Perhaps the biggest surprise about these numbers is that heart disease and its risk factors are heavily influenced by lifestyle choices. This means we have the ability to help reduce our chances of developing heart disease or manage the symptoms associated. Read on to learn how.

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is the build-up of plaque within your arteries, contributing to narrowing of the space in which blood can pass through. This build-up can continue to narrow the passageway of blood until a clot forms, or the build-up breaks free into the bloodstream, which is called an embolus. The question is, how do we stop this narrowing and reduce the likelihood of developing plaque build-up?

The answer is relatively simple, there are 3 risk factors which are heavily contribute to heart disease:

  1. high blood sugar (diabetes)

  2. high blood pressure (hypertension)

  3. high cholesterol (hyperlipidaemia)

If we target each of these three factors, we can be well on our way to reducing our chances of developing heart disease.

Let’s take a closer look at each risk factor.

1. High Blood Sugar

Diet is always the number one focus when it comes to managing your blood sugar. Reducing your intake of sugar with simple changes like substituting high sugar snacks (a chocolate bar) for healthier alternatives, such as yogurt, fruit or a muesli bar. Just check the sugar content on the labels, as some of these foods can have surprisingly high sugar content.

You can also see a dietician for an in-depth review of your personal diet and some specialised advice to help you along the way.

The second way to improve your blood sugar is exercise. Exercise has both a short-term effect (blood glucose lowering) and long-term benefit (improving insulin sensitivity.)

2. High Blood Pressure

Exercise also has both short-term and long-term benefits for controlling blood pressure. Exercise has been shown to lower blood pressure for up to 48 hours in the short term, this is why guidelines suggest we exercise most days.

In the long term, exercise can improve blood pressure in a whole variety of ways. It helps manage weight and can improve capillarisation, which is the number of capillaries that supply our muscles with blood. It can also help strengthen your hearts ability to pump. All these factors act together to help reduce your blood pressure.

3. High Cholesterol

The final factor is high cholesterol, however, overall cholesterol isn’t the sole concern here. There are more than just one type of cholesterol. We have all heard of good and bad cholesterol, or good and bad fats. Simply put, good fats are called high density lipoproteins (HDL) and bad fats are called low density lipoproteins (LDL). HDL is considered to be a ‘heart protective’ fat, whereas LDL is the exact opposite.

Overweight and sedentary individuals have been found to have much higher LDL numbers and much lower HDL numbers. Healthy and active individuals have the opposite, higher HDL and lower LDL numbers. Therefore implementing regular exercise whilst following a healthy diet is a great way to help control your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of heart disease.

Reducing your risk

Managing your risk factors doesn’t have to be a complicated task. Exercise and diet are two of the easiest and all-encompassing ways to help minimise the likelihood of developing cardiovascular disease. Here’s the current recommended exercise guidelines to follow for reducing your risk of developing heart disease along with many other chronic conditions.

When it comes to exercise the main message is:

Any exercise is better than none. More is better. Move More - Sit Less.

​Regular, moderate physical activity reduces your risk of heart disease and is also great for your mental and overall physical health. It’s never too late to start and get the benefits. Increasing your activity could start as simply as walking with your partner or a friend.

The exercise recommendations for Australian adults under 65 are:

  • Any physical activity is better than none. It’s fine to start with a little and build up.

  • Be active on most, preferably all, days every week.

  • Aim for 150 minutes of moderate intensity or vigorous intensity physical activity each week.

  • Do muscle-strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.

Exercise Recommendations for Older Australians (Over 65)

  • Do some form of physical activity, no matter what their age, weight, health problems or abilities.

  • Be active every day in as many ways as possible, doing a range of physical activities that incorporate fitness, strength, balance and flexibility.

  • Accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity on most, preferably all days.

  • Older people who have stopped physical activity, or who are starting a new physical activity, should start at a level that is easily manageable and gradually build up the recommended amount, type and frequency of activity.

  • Older people who continue to enjoy a lifetime of vigorous physical activity should carry on doing so in a manner suited to their capability into later life, provided recommended safety procedures and guidelines are adhered to.

Here are some links to great resources to help you with your activity levels:

  • Am I Active Enough - from the Heart Foundation

  • I Can Be Active Today - A Daily Guide to Simple Exercise from the Heart Foundation

  • Choose Health. Be Active - A Physical Activity Guide for Australians Over 65.

Tips and Ideas for Older Australians (Over 65)

Four types of activity are needed to keep you healthy.

  • Moderate Activities – for your heart, lungs and blood vessels

  • Strength Activities – to help maintain bone strength

  • Flexibility Activities – to help you move more easily

  • Balancing Activities – to improve your balance and help prevent falls.

Try to include at least one activity from each group. Below are some suggested activities.

If you still feel overwhelmed or confused by how to put a heart disease prevention or management plan in place, why not book an appointment with one of our Accredited Exercise Physiologists or Dietitians to help you get started? Call us on 07 5456 1599 and one of our experienced specialists will be happy to speak to you.

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