It’s not too late to start on a healthy heart in 2019

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Maybe you have been too relaxed on holidays or too frazzled by the return to work to even think about setting your goals for this year. Perhaps even the Instagram posts by D grade celebrities aren’t getting you motivated. Don’t worry! The Heart Foundation is here with three ideas for improving your heart health in 2019.

3 ways to a healthy heart

Get started with a lifestyle check

We all have great intentions: maybe you plan to eat healthier foods, exercise more often or finally give up on a long-time vice. Here are some changes you can make to your lifestyle that can help boost your heart health.

How’s your diet? Honestly? Many of us indulge over the holidays but aim to be healthier through the year. Here are some quick tips on eating your way to better heart health:

  • Check the label: many Australians eat way too much salt. It’s the sodium in salt that is bad for your heart. To choose the low sodium option, check the Nutrition Information Panel on a packaged food product and look for a product with less than 120mg of sodium per 100g
  • Spice it up: switch the salt for delicious spices to add a flavour boost to your meals
  • Swap it: choose reduced fat dairy food options like low fat unflavoured milk, yoghurt and cheese
  • Quench your thirst: drink plenty of water; it’s cheap, has no kilojoules and is guaranteed to refresh you (especially on a hot Summer day)

How often do you move each day? You might be surprised by how much time you spend sitting each day: on the bus, in the car, while eating lunch or working from your desk. Get moving; it’s great for your heart. Here are some ideas on how you can you step it up:

  • Join a walking group: there are more than 1000 Heart Foundation Walking Groups around Australia; there’s bound to be one close to you. Join up and get walking!
  • Discover opportunities to fit more brisk walking into your day: take the stairs at work, instead of the lift, get off the bus or tram one stop earlier and walk the rest of the way, get your workplace into walking meetings, or spend more time in the great outdoors

It’s time to quit. Make 2019 the year when you quit smoking. There is no safe level of smoking. Smokers are four times more likely to die of heart disease (heart attack and stroke) and three times more likely to die of sudden cardiac arrest (sudden cardiac death).  The only way to remove this risk is to quit.

Every cigarette harms your health. Once you quit smoking, your body begins to repair:

  • One year after you stop smoking, your risk of having a heart attack or stroke is cut by half.
  • Within 5 – 15 years your risk of stroke and coronary heart disease returns to that of someone who never smoked
  • Don’t worry if you find it tough to quit; we’ve got your back. All you need is a plan. Find out how you can quit smoking by reading the Heart Foundation’s Quit smoking action plan

Know more about your heart health

How often do you think about your heart health? Sometimes? Rarely? Never? You can get a clearer idea of how healthy your heart is by making an appointment to see your regular doctor to have a heart health check.

Who needs a heart health check? The Heart Foundation recommends people over 45 years old (35 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians) see their GP to have a heart health check. To help complete the check, your doctor will:

  • Check your blood pressure
  • Check your cholesterol and blood sugar levels by taking a small blood sample
  • Ask you about your lifestyle, including how often you move, what you eat, whether you smoke
  • Discuss your family history of heart disease

After your heart health check, what’s next? Using the results of your Heart Health Check, your doctor will speak to you about your level of risk for having a heart attack or stroke and the changes you might need to make to protect and improve your heart health.

Discover more about your family heart health history

The “genealogy craze” has seen thousands of Australians discover more about their ancestry, but how about learning about your family’s heart health history too?
Not all heart disease is hereditary but knowing the medical history of your parents and siblings is an important part of understanding and managing your heart disease risks. Key answers to discover include details of any:

  • heart attacks
  • heart disease
  • strokes
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol

If heart disease is part of your family history, you should discuss this with your regular doctor who might suggest you have a heart health check (see above).

Stay on track for a healthy heart in 2019

Forming new, heart healthy habits and sticking to them isn’t easy. If you think you might start the year strong and then lose momentum, here are some tips to help you stay on track.

Set goals that are specific, measurable, achievable and realistic. Be very clear about what you want to achieve. While you shouldn’t set the bar too low, you will stay motivated if your goals are reachable. If you track your progress, you will be amazed how far you can go in a short amount of time; this can help you stay on track.

Make changes that work for you. If you’re not a morning person, don’t commit to a 6:00 am gym class. When you make diet, exercise and general health decisions that fit into your lifestyle, you are more likely to stick to new habits, which benefits your heart health over the long-term.

Start small and build on your success. Start by eating healthier foods two days a week or by reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke each day. You could also get more active by going for a short walk during your lunch break every second day and then keep stepping it up by walking further or faster or more often. Remember, big, positive changes are built on top of small, consistent steps.

Review your progress, celebrate your wins and change what isn’t working. It’s OK to “start again” if you have a “bad week” where you didn’t exercise, or you ate too much junk food. Remember to celebrate your wins, the feeling of success will reinforce your efforts and help you to keep going.

You can do it!