Health & lifestyle
Heart disease, such as heart attack and stroke, is the number one killer of Australians with one life lost almost every 10 minutes. While some heart disorders are genetic conditions, making a few changes to your lifestyle can help to prevent them.
So what can you do to protect your heart and lead a longer, more enjoyable life?
Five steps to heart health
According to the Heart Foundation there are five easy steps to improve heart health:
- Get a check-up: see your doctor for ongoing heart disease risk assessments.
- Know your numbers: find out your cholesterol level, blood pressure and weight, and check these regularly.
- Be smoke-free: quitting smoking is the single most important thing you can do to reduce the risk of heart disease. While it can be difficult to stop, with some planning, good support and perseverance, it is possible. See the Smoking section of this website for more information.
- Eat well: choosing fresh foods, avoiding sugary, fatty and salty foods, and drinking plenty of water are the basics of a healthy diet. If you need a few healthy meals ideas, the Heart Foundation has a range of delicious and healthy recipes available online. A healthy diet can also help to maintain a healthy weight which is important for lowering the risk of heart disease, not to mention a range of other health issues. Check out our Eating Well section for more information and try the simple Measure Up tool to see if your weight is right for you.
- Be active: regular, moderate physical activity is good for the heart. You don’t have to do a lot, but at least 30 minutes on most or all days of the week is desirable. Walking, cycling and using public transport are good ways to be physically active on a daily basis. If exercise is not something you do easily consider doing exercise with friends or joining a group such as Heart Foundation Walking. This way you not only get the physical benefits of exercise, but you also get to enjoy a social event at the same time.
Understanding and managing other risk factors for heart problems is also important. Depression has been identified as a risk factor for developing heart problems. So if you have depression, it's important to talk to your doctor about getting the right treatment.
Being socially isolated and having limited support have also been shown to increase the risk of developing heart disease. Keeping socially active with friends, family and community organisations not only helps maintain good mental health but can also provide some protection from heart problems.
Knowing the signs
Looking after your heart means taking steps to keep it healthy, but it also means understanding when your heart is in trouble – in other words, it is important to know the signs of a heart attack.
A heart attack occurs when an artery becomes blocked and blood flow to the heart is reduced. The longer the blockage remains, the more damage is done to the heart, so identifying and responding to warning signs is crucial. According to the Heart Foundation a staggering 40 per cent of Australians would not know what to do if they were having a heart attack and only 12 per cent of people would recognise jaw, neck, back or shoulder pain as warning signs of a heart attack.
So what are the signs? Chest pain or discomfort is the most common symptom of a heart attack, but some people will not experience any chest pain, while others will experience only mild discomfort. Other possible symptoms include nausea, dizziness, cold sweats and shortness of breath. If the warning signs of a heart attack persist for 10 minutes, if they are severe or get progressively worse, then that is the time to call an ambulance on Triple Zero*. Treatment starts the minute you make the call.
Visit the Heart Foundation website for more information on recognising a heart attack and how to respond to it.
* Please note: An ambulance trip can be very expensive. Even if you have private health insurance, you may not be covered, so it is worth checking. For more information about becoming an ambulance subscriber, contact the ambulance service provider in your State or Territory.
A specialist talks about heart attack
Doctor Jennifer Johns, Cardiologist and President of the Victorian division of the Heart Foundation talks about heart attack.
This video covers the topics listed below. To skip to a particular the topic that you are interested, either click on the link to be taken to The Shed Online YouTube channel OR fast forward the video to one of the times listed below.
- 00:00 - What is a heart attack?
- 06:20 - Treatment of a heart attack
- 09:20 - Post-heart attack impact on lifestyle
- 10:30 - Depression post-heart attack
- 11:20 - Prevention of a heart attack
Want to know more?
To help you find out more about maintaining a healthy heart we have put together some relevant heart health links and resources.
This article is based on information sourced from the Heart Foundation.
Health expert Q&A - heart health
Wed, 4th July 2012, Physical and mental health
To help you find out more about maintaining a healthy heart we have put together some relevant heart health links and resources.Read more
Are you heart smart?
Take the quiz to find out - courtesy of the Heart Foundation.View activity
Will you recognise your heart attack?
Professor James Tatoulis, Chief Medical Advisor at the Heart Foundation, discusses heart attack warning signs and risk factors.Read more
Heart Attack Warning Signs
This Heart Foundation ad explores how a heart attack victim should have called 000 at the first signs of heart attack.View