Cardiovascular disease kills one Australian every 10 minutes and is responsible for 34 per cent of all deaths in this country. No doubt you’ve heard a lot about it and know a little about the terrible potential it has to impact your health and wellbeing.
What you may not know is that while some cases of cardiovascular disease are the result of plain bad luck, the vast majority of cases are actually preventable. Unlike other diseases, this means that we have a large amount of control over these conditions and can do a lot to minimise our chances of falling ill or dying from them.
What does it mean?
Cardiovascular disease is a medical term that refers to disorders of the heart, arteries, veins and lymphatic vessels. It is an ‘umbrella’ term that is used to describe a range of conditions.
You may have heard other terms or phrases that are also used to describe some of the specific conditions that are referred to as cardiovascular diseases, or events that occur as a result of cardiovascular disease. Here is a list of a few you may be familiar with:
- Heart attack
- Coronary Heart Disease (CHD)
- Coronary Artery Disease
- High cholesterol levels
- Heart failure
- Cardiac arrest
- Hardening of the arteries
- Clogged arteries.
While some of these terms describe different conditions, you may be surprised to find that they are all directly linked to the health of your cardiovascular system.
Reducing your risk
The great news is that reducing your risk of developing cardiovascular disease is not difficult to do at all. Cardiovascular disease risk management is all about leading a healthy lifestyle. The changes you’ll need to make are not huge – indeed, you’re probably already following a number of them anyway – but they can have a large impact on the quality of your life. Best of all, by living a healthy life your risk of developing other diseases such as type 2 diabetes and some types of cancer, will also reduce.
Here are our six healthy lifestyle tips you can follow to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease:
- Exercise regularly
When it comes to cardiovascular disease, exercise can have a really big impact. Not only does it assist manage your weight and cholesterol levels, but it also can help shake off stress and give your heart a healthy workout.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day. This can include vigorous incidental exercise broken into ten minute chunks (such as climbing stairs or vacuuming) as well as playing sport or participating in planned exercise such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, aerobics, dancing, spin classes and so on.
- Don’t smoke
Smoking affects the health of your cardiovascular system in a number of ways. The nicotine in smoke has the effect of making your heart work a lot faster than it normally would do. This is because it narrows the blood vessels while simultaneously increasing your heart rate and blood pressure. The chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage your heart and blood vessels which can lead to atherosclerosis (narrowing of the arteries that lead into the heart), and this can ultimately result in a heart attack.
Everyone knows that smoking is bad for your health, yet many people continue to smoke cigarettes. Smoking has been clearly and unmistakably identified as a risk factor for many serious illnesses, including cardiovascular disease. There is no ‘safe’ way to smoke – ‘social smoking’, smoking pipes, or roll-you-owns, low-tar cigarettes, low-nicotine cigarettes or breathing in other people’s smoke are all dangerous.
If you smoke or use tobacco products now, make a real effort to give up. Discuss quitting with your GP or pharmacist as there are products available that can make the quitting process easier. Calling the Quitline (on 131 848 or 13 7848) may also help you plan for success and help you through any difficult times after you’ve given up.
- Manage your weight
Getting heavier as you get older can increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes, increasing your blood pressure and raising your cholesterol levels. The bad news is that all of these conditions are not just dangerous in their own right but are also risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
If you are overweight, it’s time to face facts and find out how bad the situation really is. The first step is to work out your body mass index score or BMI. It’s not a perfect measure of health but it gives a good indication of whether you could benefit from some weight loss.
Another good indicator of the risk your weight may be posing is to measure around your waist. Use a tape measure and follow the following guidelines:
- Measure directly against your skin
- Breathe out normally.
- Make sure the tape is snug, without compressing the skin.
- The correct place to measure your waist is horizontally halfway between your lowest rib and the top of your hipbone. This is roughly in line with your belly button.
You are at an increased risk of developing certain cancers, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease if:
- You’re male and you have a waist measurement of over 94 centimetres
- You’re female and you have a waist measurement of over 80 centimetres.
That risk becomes greatly increased if:
- You’re male and you have a waist measurement of over 102 centimetres
- You’re female and you have a waist measurement of over 88 centimetres.
By losing weight – and keeping it off – you’ll not only look and feel better but your health will benefit. It’s something really worth putting some effort and time into. If you need support or assistance, try a reputable weight loss company that focuses on eating a healthy diet for the long term, combined with regular exercise.
- Manage stress in your life
Experiencing stress on a long-term basis has been associated with a number of conditions such as hypertension and depression which in turn are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Being stressed, even on a short term basic, can also be a trigger for some people to start eating unhealthy foods or reaching for a cigarette – also two risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Learning how to recognise stress and manage it effectively is vital – not just for good health but for a happy life.
Sometimes stress can be hard to get under control; if this is the case for you, then do reach out and ask for help from those who may be able to assist you – your friends, family, GP or a counsellor or other professional such as a psychologist.
- Eat a heart-friendly diet
Putting your heart first when you eat will actually benefit your whole body. Again, it’s not hard to do – there are only a few basic rules to follow:
- Limit your intake of salt
- Eat low fat foods
- Avoid foods that contain saturated and trans fats
- Get plenty of omega-3 oil
- Enjoy alcohol in moderation (no more than one or two standard drinks a day).
This diet is referred to as DASH which stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It’s a good way to eat; and not just if you’re hoping to reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Eating in this manner means you eat mostly fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, whole grains, fish and low-fat sources of protein. If you feel your diet is not as good as it could be and want to eat for a healthier cardiovascular system, get some expert advice from a dietitian, who can evaluate what you’re currently eating and offer advice on how to improve the quality of what you’re eating.
- Get to know your GP
Some conditions that are risk factors for cardiovascular disease, like high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol levels, are often ‘silent’ – that is, without a medical test you wouldn’t know you have them. Not only should you be aware of these levels, but you should monitor them over time.
Regular check-ups with your GP are the best way for you to monitor your health and wellbeing and to understand your risk of developing cardiovascular disease and other conditions. Don’t wait until you are sick – the idea is that you go when you aren’t trying to resolve a particular complaint so you can evaluate your overall health. Make an appointment and say that you may need a longer session with the doctor because you want a thorough health check. You’ll be assessed in the office but will also be sent off for tests – your GP can advise you which ones are relevant to you based on your age, gender and risk factors.
If your tests show a potential problem you may be referred to a specialist for further investigations. If your blood pressure or cholesterol levels are high, then you will need to talk to your doctor about ways to bring these results down to a healthy range.
Minimising the risk of developing cardiovascular disease is not difficult yet could deliver you many years of good health and a longer life. Cardiovascular diseases are ones that we often have control over, so make the most of this knowledge and your ability to influence your own health outcomes by taking some positive action, starting today.
Resource: Healthlogix – Australian Corporate Wellness Online. www.australiancorporatewellness.com.au