Heart Health Image

Heart health

Learn more about heart health and what you can do to significantly reduce your risk , as more Australians die of Heart Disease than any other cause.

All information sourced from The Heart Foundation – www.heartfoundation.org.au/

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease is the broad term for the conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart muscle. This includes:

  • Coronary heart disease (CHD)
  • Heart failure
  • Valve disease
  • Arrhythmias (rhythm disorders)

Heart disease can have many causes. It occurs earlier and more frequently in men than women, and within certain ethnic groups. You may be born with heart disease, or have an increased risk of developing it due to your genetics.

While heart disease death rates have fallen dramatically in Australia in the last 10 years, it’s still the leading cause of death. Heart disease can also lead to chronic health problems that require ongoing or life-long care.


Many incidences of heart disease are preventable or you can significantly reduce your risk. That’s because the risk factors related to many heart disease conditions are related to your lifestyle choices, such as what you eat, how much you exercise and whether or not you smoke.

Therefore, eating well, exercising regularly and stopping smoking can all help to reduce your risk of heart disease. We discuss these areas more later.

Please remember that if you have been diagnosed with heart disease, it can still be managed. With the right support, lifestyle changes and treatment, you can go on to live a full and active life.

Family history

A family history of a disease means that a member of your family either has, or has had that disease. Generally, if you have a family history of a heart condition, you may have a higher risk of developing a heart condition. However, an inherited condition (which is different to a family history) is caused by a fault or mutation in one or more of your genes. If one of your parents has a faulty gene, there’s a higher chance that you will inherit it. Some common inherited conditions are:

  • Heart muscle diseases
  • Life-threatening heart rhythms
  • Very high cholesterol levels.

Family history is more complex. Rather than just a single faulty gene, it could be a combination of shared genes and environments passed down from one generation to the next, which increases the risk of developing a disease.

Healthy heart

Every day you can work on maintaining a healthy heart. As outlined above, what you eat, how much activity you get, whether you smoke all have a big impact on your heart health. Controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure are other ways to maintain a healthy heart. We look into the healthy heart factors more here:

Heart healthy diet 

Healthy eating for a healthy heart is a long term plan. It doesn’t focus on one type of food or nutrient, but rather on what you eat over the longer term. Healthy heart eating is naturally low in saturated and trans fats, salt and added sugar. It’s rich in wholegrains, fibre, antioxidants and unsaturated fats.

Heart healthy diet tips:

  • Eat more fruit and vegetables.
  • Eat a variety of fruit and vegetables, as this is linked to healthier hearts and a lower risk of heart disease.
  • Swap to wholegrain cereals, which include more of the natural grain. This means they have more nutrients like dietary fibre, B vitamins, vitamin E, and healthy fats.
  • Make healthy fat choices. The best fats to include in your diet are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (omega-3 and omega-6) fats. You can find these healthier fats in avocados, nuts, fish and sunflower seeds.
  • Use herbs and spices instead of salt. Eating too much salt is bad for your heart. The sodium in salt can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for heart disease.

You can find out more about heart healthy eating patterns here – www.heartfoundation.org.au/heart-health-education/healthy-eating

Active healthy heart 

Doing regular physical activity can reduce your risk of having a heart attack or developing heart disease. Keeping active helps to control common heart disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and being overweight. Regular physical activity can also help strengthen your bones and muscles. It can help you feel more energetic, happier and relaxed.

Tips for being more active 

  • Any physical activity is better than none.
  • Set realistic goals. Start with small, realistic goals and work your way up to the recommended 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking) on most days of the week.
  • Choose activities you enjoy. When you enjoy being active, you’re more likely to do it more often.
  • Get social. Stay motivated by doing physical activity together with a group of friends or family, or even with your dog.
  • Sit less. Adults who sit less throughout the day have a lower risk of early death, particularly from heart disease.

Remember when making changes to your fitness regime, consult your doctor first.

Find out more about getting active and Heart Foundation Walking as a way to keep active.

Be smoke-free 

The first step to quitting is understanding the risks associated with smoking. Smoking damages the blood vessels leading to your heart, brain and other parts of your body. This can make you up to four times more likely to die of heart attack or stroke and up to three times more likely to die from sudden cardiac death.

Tips for quitting smoking 

  • Keep trying. Quitting smoking isn’t always easy. It can take persistence. You can do it with planning, practice, and help.
  • Reach out for support. If you’re finding it hard to quit, support is available. Call Quitline on 137 848. You can also talk to your doctor about options that might help you.
  • Quit for loved ones. To protect the health of your family and friends, stop smoking inside your home, car and other enclosed places.
  • Do it now. When you quit smoking, your risk of heart attack and stroke can decrease almost straight away.

Get more information and support to help you quit smoking here www.quitnow.gov.au or call the Quitline on 13 7848

Healthy cholesterol levels 

Cholesterol is a fatty substance that moves around your body in the blood. Your body produces cholesterol naturally, and it is also found in some foods. Cholesterol is essential for the normal functioning of your body. There are two main types of cholesterol, High-Density Lipoprotein: HDL or ‘good cholesterol’ and Low-Density Lipoprotein: LDL or ‘bad cholesterol’. ‘Bad cholesterol’ can stick to the walls of your arteries, causing a build-up, known as plaque. This build-up can create blockages in your arteries and contribute to increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Tips to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels 

  • Get to know your dietary fats. Eating too much saturated and trans fat can elevate blood cholesterol levels. Saturated and trans fats can be found in foods like pizza, cakes, biscuits, pastries and deep-fried foods.
  • Eat a heart healthy diet. Fresh foods should make up the main part of your diet. Choose a wide variety of fruit and vegetables and a variety of healthy protein sources including fish and seafood, lean meat, poultry, legumes, nuts and seeds.
  • Get to know your levels. A key step in controlling your cholesterol is finding out what your blood cholesterol levels are. If you’re 45 years or older (or 30 years or older for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) you should see your doctor for a Heart Health Check.
  • If your doctor recommends medication, take as prescribed. The best way to reach your treatment goals and enjoy the benefits of better heart health is to follow the advice of your doctor or pharmacist and take medicines exactly as directed.

For more tips and advice on managing your cholesterol, call the Heart Foundation Helpline on 13 11 12. All calls are answered by a qualified health professional.

Healthy blood pressure

Blood pressure is the pressure of your blood on the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it around your body. It’s a vital part of how your heart and circulation work.
Blood pressure that’s high over a long time is one of the main risk factors for heart disease. As you get older, the chances of having ongoing high blood pressure increases.

Tips to maintaining healthy blood pressure 

  • Get active. Being regularly active helps to control high blood pressure and reduces your chances of having a heart attack or developing heart disease.
  • Minimise your salt intake. Eating a diet high in salt can lead to higher blood pressure. Having more than 5 grams of salt (a teaspoon) each day increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.
  • Know your numbers. You can’t feel high blood pressure. That’s why it’s important to get it checked and learn about how to manage it.
  • See your doctor for a Heart Health Check if you are 45 years or older (or 30 years or older for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people).

For more tips and advice on managing your cholesterol, call the Heart Foundation Helpline on 13 11 12. All calls are answered by a qualified health professional.

Am I at risk?

To find out if you are at risk of heart disease you can get your estimated heart age by completing the heart age calculator here –www.heartfoundation.org.au/heart-age-calculator. The Heart Age Calculator estimates your heart age based on your inputs and compares to your actual age. This calculator is intended for people aged 35-75.

Your risk of a heart attack or stroke may be higher if your heart age is greater than your actual age.

Click here to estimate your heart age – www.heartfoundation.org.au/heart-age-calculator



Source: All information sourced from The Heart Foundation – www.heartfoundation.org.au/