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Time to follow your heart

Medical & health articles 7 Feb 2018
Woman holding apple with heart in hands

It's no big surprise to know that you rely on your heart. With every beat it keeps you alive, pumping blood around the body to provide fuel and oxygen to your muscles and organs. But, like all good partnerships, your heart relies on you to keep it strong and dependable.

Did you know that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death of women in Australia? One in two women will be affected by heart disease during their lifetime – don't be that one in two.

There are a number of risk factors we can't do much about, such as our age, sex and family history; however, there are some risk factors that are within our power to change. Too much sitting, too little activity, being overweight, having high blood pressure, having high cholesterol or blood glucose levels, smoking and drinking excessive alcohol are all 'lifestyle' factors that we can do something about to reduce our chance of developing cardiovascular disease.

So it's time to do something about this scary – yet little-known – fact.

Fast facts to get you thinking

  • A woman's risk of heart disease increases significantly around the menopause. It is thought this may be partly due to the drop in oestrogen levels that comes with menopause, as well as other changes that occur around this time
  • Heart attack symptoms can look very different in women to men.

Read on to learn more and watch the video below to hear a real-life account of heart disease and heart attack from a woman who has lived through it.

Some good news!

Many risk factors for heart disease can be reduced with positive lifestyle changes. Heart disease is preventable. Keep reading to find out what you can do.

Fruit and vegetables

Knowledge is power. Having regular health checks with your GP is an important first step. These can include checking your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels. Read more about health checks and how often you need them.

Be aware of the signs. Women may not experience the classic chest pain when having a heart attack. Instead, they may feel breathless, dizzy or sick, or have pain, tightness or discomfort in their arm, back or jaw.

Seek help early. Women often wait too long to seek help because they think they are not at risk of heart attack and don't recognise the signs. Together, let's change that and work towards preventing heart disease from happening in the first place.

Lower your risk by making positive choices

Your diet is one key. Fruits, vegetables and fish form the basis of a heart-healthy diet. Aim to eat 5 serves of vegetables and 2 serves of fresh fruit a day, as well as 2 serves of fish a week.

Eat your way through the Mediterranean. No, we don't mean feasting on pasta and pizza! Learn how to follow the Mediterranean diet the right way – it could reduce your risk of heart disease by 30%.

Snacks with benefits. Research has also found that a handful of nuts a day, as part of a healthy diet, can reduce your risk of heart disease. Go for almonds or walnuts. Keep a jar on hand at work and at home.

Movement matters. Did you know that too much sitting – also known as sedentary behaviour – may increase the risk of heart attack? That's because human beings are designed to move! Coming up later in the week we'll help you to create an action plan to increase your physical activity and decrease the time you spend sitting throughout the day.

Smoking is for suckers. When it comes to heart health, there are no winners if you smoke. If you are having trouble quitting, seek help from your doctor, the Quit website or Quitline on 13 7848.

For the love of dog. According to numerous studies, having a four-legged friend is often associated with also having lower blood pressure, healthier blood-fat profiles, being more physically active and being a healthier weight. So your heart loves your pet in more ways than one!

Reach out. Research shows that depression and loneliness can increase the risk of heart disease. Share your worries and lighten your heavy heart with friends and family, and get advice from your health professional.

Get a daily dose of humour. Laughing every day and having an active sense of humour has heart-healthy benefits. Studies show it may protect you against heart attack and reduce the risk of heart disease. Plus, a good belly laugh can send 20% more blood flowing through your body.

Grandma, mother and daughter in kitchen preparing food

What changes can you make today?

It's important to set achievable goals for yourself, as feeling discouraged from falling short of a goal can set you back even further. Maybe try one of these today:

  • if you spend a lot of time sitting throughout the day, why not ring a friend and ask them to come with you for a walk and a chat? Go on, pick up the phone!
  • if you smoke, today is the day to book an appointment with your GP to discuss the best way for you to quit
  • if you spend a lot of your day on your own, why not look online for a sporting or community club that you could join to meet others?
  • if your diet is not quite as healthy as it could be, could you think of one change you could make this week? It could be as simple as trying to eat one more piece of fruit or not having a salt shaker on the dinner table.

This content originally appeared as a part of Women's Health Week. Sign up for Women's Health Week to receive five days of content like this in September and don't miss the action.