Hello again! We’re all breathing a sigh of relief as the country begins easing restrictions; how nice was it to see some family members again! I hope that we can continue to ease our way out of lockdown and be liberated to do more as the weeks go by…
So as we start to re-engage in our communities and emerge from ‘hibernation’, we’re now seeing lots of data from our time in lockdown. We have some interesting statistics on what really went down during isolation…..
The Heart Foundation have done surveys and found that the pandemic has turned households’ usual eating habits upside down, with 54 per cent of people admitting to letting themselves go! It found 29 per cent were eating more to relieve stress and boredom, while 26 per cent were eating more desserts and nearly a quarter were snacking more than their usual habits.
So why the concern? Well even before lockdown, poor diet was the leading risk factor for cardiovascular disease which sadly takes 48 lives each day in Australia. Health experts are concerned that these unhealthy habits we learned during our time in isolation may be hard to leave behind now that we are coming out of lockdown.
So what do we need to be aware of? Here are some lifestyle risk factors that contribute to heart disease:
It is now very well publicised how bad smoking is for you. Thanks to research, we understand all the deleterious effects it has on our bodies. Smoking damages the blood vessels to your heart, brain and other parts of your body, which makes you:
Three times more likely to die of a heart attack
Two times more likely to die of stroke, and
Three times more likely to die from sudden cardiac arrest.
The foods we eat and how much, has a direct impact on our heart health. What you eat impacts other risk factors including blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes and being overweight. A heart-healthy diet is low in unhealthy fats, salt and added sugar, and rich in wholegrains, fibre, vitamins, antioxidants and healthy fats. This is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of heart disease.
People who don’t exercise enough have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease – about 80% of Aussies don’t meet the recommended guidelines of 30-60 minutes of moderate intensity activities most days of the week. Doing regular physical activity can cut your risk of having a heart attack or developing heart disease. Keeping active also helps to control heart disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight.
Being overweight can lead to:
High blood pressure
Type 2 diabetes, and
A fatty build-up in your arteries.
An astonishing 2/3 of Australians are overweight or obese and we know this increases your risk of having a heart attack. By controlling your weight, you mitigate many other risk factors or coronary disease also.
Heavy drinking or binge drinking can increase your chances of developing heart disease. Drinking a lot over the long term can increase your heart rate, blood pressure, weaken your heart muscle and increase the level of some fats in your blood (triglycerides).
If you do drink, you should limit yourself to no more than two standard alcoholic drinks a day and no more than four on any one occasion.
So what about medical conditions? Here are some of the health conditions that increase your risks of heart disease:
High blood pressure
High blood pressure is when your blood pressure is often higher than normal (usually a reading of above 140/90 is considered ‘high’). It’s one of the main risk factors for heart disease and one-third of Australian adults are living with high blood pressure. We can’t ‘feel’ high blood pressure so it’s important that we regularly get it checked at our GP and try to control it through positive lifestyle choices.
Cholesterol is a fatty substance that circulates around our blood stream and is fundamental for the normally functioning of our body. However, too much bad cholesterol can be harmful because it sticks to the walls of your arteries and causes a build-up of fatty plaques. This build-up can create blockages in your arteries and increase your chances of having a heart attack or stroke. Cholesterol and lipid profiles can be checked via a blood test at your Dr and should be regularly done to ensure they remain the ‘healthy zone.’
People with diabetes are up to four times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke. Again, getting a fasting glucose test at your GP can determine where your levels are at. A healthy diet can also help keep blood sugar levels in the normal range, reducing your risk of developing the disease.
This is one of the major ‘unmodifiable’ risk factors. However, just because you have a family history of heart disease doesn’t mean you’ll have the same health issues. But you should do your best to change your lifestyle risk factors to help reduce your chances of heart disease.
People of some origins – such as those of South Asian, Middle Eastern, Maori or Pacific Islander descent – have an increased risk of developing heart disease.
In Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are twice as likely to die from heart disease compared to non-Indigenous Australians. Coronary events also occur 10-20 years earlier than non-Indigenous Australians.
So what I want you to take away from this blog, is that there are many things you can do to reduce risks of having a cardiovascular event. Even if you are genetically predisposed, you can alter your lifestyle habits to ensure you mitigate as many risk factors as possible.
Having a good rapport with your GP and getting regular tests to monitor risk factors will help monitor warning signs for cardiac disease. Engaging in a healthy lifestyle, including eating a nutrient dense diet and being active can have a huge impact on controlling risk factors. The reality is that cardiovascular disease has a huge impact on our health system in Australia but there is a lot more we can do as individuals to lessen the impact. Does your lifestyle need an overhaul??