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This Father’s Day share the ways you protect your heart
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This Father’s Day share the ways you protect your heart

Have you thought about what you are getting for your children this Father’s Day?

5 min read

We know the kids are supposed to have made you a card, and bought a quirky present or another pair of socks (one of those socks will disappear in the next few weeks), but what are you giving to them?

As a dad, this time of year is as good as any to change the way you think of your heart health.

“Men, we found, treat their bodies as tools to do a job. Health is not always important or something they pay much attention to until poor health gets in the way of their ability to go to work, have sex or do something else important to them. These roles and responsibilities are often the ways they define themselves as men and how others in their lives define their worth,” Derek M Griffith and Elizabeth C Stewart, both from Vanderbilt University, USA writing in The Conversation.

On top of changing the way you think about your heart health, you can take this time to change the way you act.

Give the gift of a healthy heart

On Father’s Day, you have the chance to give your children one of the most important gifts they will ever receive: a front row ticket to a real-life example of how to look after their hearts.

Why is this so important?

Heart disease is one of Australia’s biggest killers, taking 51 lives every day. Many of the risk factors for developing these conditions are preventable, and they are related to diet, exercise and lifestyle.

That’s why dads have such an important role to play: children learn by example, and they emulate what they see. So, why not act now to improve your heart health? It’s a win-win: you’ll be improving your heart health, supporting your long-term wellbeing and teaching your kids how to love their hearts. You will also be showing them how to develop lifelong skills and habits that will protect their heart health.

Take the time to look after your heart; it’s the only one you have

We get it; it’s not easy being a dad. You work, juggle drop-offs and pickups, support your partner around the house, spend great times with your kids, hang out with your mates, and you need time for yourself too. But, have you ever stopped to think about being a role model in a different way? 

Here are six simple steps you can take to help your family learn vital heart-health habits too:

Spend more time being active

Doing regular physical activity reduces 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.

We all face time pressures and other barriers that can get in the way of being more active. Some ideas for stepping up your physical activity include:

  • Move more: great places to start include, heading to the gym or going on an early morning run. But there are other ways to get moving, like walking, gardening, bike riding or dancing.
  • Set realistic goals: get going by starting small and working your way to getting more active. You should aim for 30 - 60 minutes of moderate intensity activity on most days of the week. Also, aim to do muscle-toning activities twice a week: try push-ups, squats or tasks involving lifting.
  • Get social when you get active: exercise with your family, friends or your pet, or join a Heart Foundation Walking group. Exercising together can help you stay motivated and help you build closer connections too.
  • Sit less: when you spend less time sitting, you reduce your risk of early death, especially from heart disease. At work, get up from your desk every 30 minutes. At home, stand up while watching television; consider doing the dishes or the ironing when watching your favourite shows.  
  • Limit screen time: everyone can benefit from less time in front of a screen, whether it’s a smartphone, tablet, computer or the TV. Some ways you can all move away from screen time include setting time limits and using timers or alarms, keeping screens out of bedrooms and having one screen-free day each week.

Playing sports, riding your bikes, running around the park, swimming at the beach; all of these are great ways to get active as a family and to help your kids to stay positive about being active, it’s a lesson that will benefit them through their lives.

Eat a heart-healthy diet

Healthy eating for a healthy heart is about the pattern of what you eat over days, weeks and months. Heart-healthy eating isn't about one type of food or nutrient that improves heart health. Instead, it’s about what you eat over the long-term.

What is a heart-healthy eating pattern? This style of eating is naturally low in saturated and trans fats, salt and added sugar; it’s rich in wholegrains, fibre, antioxidants and unsaturated fats. Here are four quick heart-healthy eating tips:

  • Eat more fruit and vegetables: fill half your plate with vegetables at your main meal and try to include vegetables at other meal and snack times. Aim to eat five serves of vegetables and two serves of fruit every day.
  • Swap to wholegrain: when you choose breads, cereals rice and other grains, go for wholegrain options. These have more natural grain, which means they have more nutrients like dietary fibre, B vitamins, vitamin E and healthy fats.
  • Choose healthy fats: 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. Reduce your risk of heart disease by replacing foods that are high in saturated or trans fats with these healthier fats.
  • Boost the flavours of food by adding 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.

The best way to learn about heart-healthy eating is to prepare and enjoy heart-healthy food together. Discover the Heart Foundation’s delicious recipes and help your kids to discover the fun of cooking and that heart-healthy food is delicious too.

Be smoke-free

There is no safe level of smoking. Smoking damages the blood vessels leading to your heart, brain and other parts of your body. This makes you four times more likely to die of heart attack or stroke and three times more likely to die from sudden cardiac death.

We know it’s not easy to quit. Here are some tips to help you stay smoke-free:

  • Quit for the people you love: you’re a dad, quit to protect your family from the dangers of second-hand smoke. When you breathe second-hand smoke, you have a higher risk of developing heart disease.
  • Try, try again: quitting smoking isn’t easy, but you can do it with planning, practice and help. If you start smoking again, learn from your quit attempt and have another go. Think about the benefits of quitting: just one year later, your risk of a heart attack or stroke is cut by half.
  • Get support: remember there are many steps you can take to quit. Call the Quitline on 13 7848, talk to your doctor about medications that might help, or try nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), like patches, gum, lozenges or mouth spray.

Understand and control your 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. Your body needs cholesterol to function normally. Cholesterol moves around your body in the blood. The two most common types of cholesterol in your blood are Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol (LDL cholesterol) or ‘bad cholesterol’ and High-Density Lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) or ‘good cholesterol’.

‘Bad cholesterol’ can stick to the walls of your arteries; this causes a build-up known as plaques. This build-up can create blockages in your arteries and can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

You can help to reduce the levels of bad cholesterol in your blood by:

  • Avoiding foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, including pizzas, cakes, biscuits, pastries and deep-fried foods.
  • Eating healthier fats in foods like nuts, seeds, avocados, olives and using their oils for cooking.
  • Eating a heart-healthy diet that includes lots of vegetables, fruits and wholegrain cereals, as well as legumes (chickpeas, beans and lentils); fish and seafood; smaller servings of other animal-based products, such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, eggs, poultry and lean meat.
  • Knowing your cholesterol levels. The best way to do this is to see your doctor for a Medicare-funded heart health check. The check will involve taking a blood test to measure your cholesterol.
  • Taking any cholesterol lowering medications, as prescribed by your doctor. 

Understand and control your 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.

You can control your blood pressure by:

  • Getting active.
  • Eating less salt. Eating too much 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. To reduce the amount of salt in your diet, avoid eating potato crisps, chips, salted nuts, processed meat and most take away foods.
  • You can’t feel high blood pressure, so you could have it without ever knowing. That’s why it’s important to get your blood pressure checked regularly.

How do you know if you are living a heart healthy lifestyle?

Get a heart health check. If you are over 45 years old (over 30 years for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples), you should see your doctor for a Medicare-funded Heart Health Check.

During a Heart Health Check, your doctor will assess your risk of developing heart disease. As part of the check, your doctor will look at factors that can impact on your heart health, including your blood pressure, cholesterol, diet and physical activity levels. You will also discuss your medical and family history.

The results of your check will let you know if you are at low, moderate or high risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. Depending on your results, your doctor will work with you to manage your risk factors and improve your heart health.

You can learn more about simple ways to look after your heart health by downloading your free e-book: Protect your heart: 5 simple steps.

Are you a heart-healthy role model?

Think back to those special moments you had with your dad, to the times when he shared some vital life lesson, or you just watched him do something you thought was amazing or inspiring. Chances are these are powerful memories that still impact on you, and the way you live your life, today.

This Father’s Day, you’ve got the chance to do that too; you can improve your health and help your children to live heart-healthy lives too.

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