Heart Disease and Risk Factors
Your heart is amazing: it's working incredibly hard every single second of every day. When it's working well, it pumps blood through the arteries, delivering oxygen and essential nutrients to the entire body.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease or cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is a general term that describes different heart problems. The most common type is coronary heart disease, a condition in which the arteries that supply blood to the heart become blocked with plaque. This can lead to a heart attack. Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the number one cause of death in Australia and globally. Yet by making small changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can improve your heart health and quality of life.
Risk factors for heart health
Knowing your risk factors is the first step in taking control of your heart health. There are many risk factors for heart disease and it’s important to take care of them all. A risk factor is a certain lifestyle behaviour, personal factor or environmental condition that raises a person’s chances of negatively affecting their heart health. The more risk factors you have, the higher your chances of negatively affecting your heart health. Some risk factors can be changed, while others cannot.
Risk factors for heart health and how you can improve yours
Risk factors you can change
Stopping smoking is one of the most important decisions you can ever make for your heart, even if you’ve smoked for years. But if you make the decision to quit, you will reap the benefits much quicker than you think, not only for your heart but also for your health in general.
High blood pressure
The heart transports 5-8 litres of blood throughout the body each minute. If your blood pressure is elevated, the walls of your arteries can be damaged and become less flexible, and your heart needs to push harder for blood to flow through. Being overweight, drinking too much alcohol, eating too much salt and other aspects of diet can raise blood pressure.
High blood cholesterol
Raised cholesterol is not good for your heart health. It can cause the build up of fatty deposits in your arteries and cause them to narrow, making it more difficult for your heart to pump blood around the body. The only way to know your cholesterol is to have it checked. The good news is if you do have raised or high cholesterol, with simple changes to your diet and lifestyle you can make a positive difference to your cholesterol levels.
If you have any concerns about your cholesterol level or heart health, always contact your GP. For more specific dietary advice on cholesterol management, speak to an Accredited Practising Registered Dietician.
Blood Sugar Levels
If you blood sugar levels are higher than normal this can affect the health of your heart and can damage your blood vessels. A healthy diet and regular exercise can help keep your blood-sugar levels in-check. Speak to your doctor or Dietitian for practical advice on blood-sugar management.
Being overweight is not good for your heart, as it increases your risk of factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Even small reductions in your weight can make a positive difference to your heart. It’s important to speak to your health professional about the right changes you can make to your diet and lifestyle to improve your weight.
Excessive alcohol consumption
Excessive alcohol consumption can be harmful to your heart health, as it can cause issues such as high blood pressure; abnormal heart rhythms and weight gain because alcoholic drinks are very high in calories. Therefore it is important that when looking after your heart, you drink alcohol in moderation by keeping to the recommended no more than 2 standard drinks per day.
Although stress is not directly related to serious heart problems, unfortunately, the way some of us cope with stress, like smoking, eating junk food or drinking too much alcohol, can also affect heart health. Therefore it’s important to learn how to cope with stress in a healthy way such as by keeping active, maintaining a healthy diet and learning how to relax. This website is full of ideas and tips to help you make small changes to your diet and lifestyle to help make a difference to your heart health and quality of life. It’s never too late to learn to love your heart!
For more information on heart health, visit the Heart Foundation of Australia: