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Your heart is your most important tool
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Your heart is your most important tool

Men’s Health Week is the perfect time to think about your heart.

Sure, it’s an odd headline to use when introducing a blog post about Men’s Health Week 2020. But the reality often is that: “Men... 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,” Derek M Griffith and Elizabeth C Stewart, both from Vanderbilt University, USA writing in The Conversation.

Now is the time to look after your most important tool

If 2020 has taught us anything, it’s the value of life and loved ones. Across the world, COVID-19 has taken too many lives, leaving thousands of families shattered by grief.

While the global impact of COVID-19 is devastating, closer to home, coronary heart disease takes more than 17,000 Australian lives each year (Australian Bureau of Statistics 2019), with men being the majority of people dying and being hospitalised.

Now is the time for Aussie men to step up and take care of their most important tool: their hearts; you owe this to your family, to your mates and to yourself.

As we return to the ways of life and the patterns and habits we had before the pandemic, there’s one thing we must change: it’s time to take better care of your heart.

Men’s Health Week is the perfect time to think about and act on, the things you need to do to get on the road to better heart health. These are the six steps you need to take:

Get a Heart Health Check

If you are 45 years old and over (30 years and over for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples), make an appointment to see your doctor for a Medicare-funded 20-minute Heart Health Check.
During a Heart Health Check, your doctor will assess and address your risk of developing heart disease by:

  • Checking your heart disease risk factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar
  • Discussing your health history and lifestyle across your diet, physical activity levels, whether you drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes, your weight and family history of heart disease
  • Determining if you are at low, moderate or high risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years
  • Taking action to improve your heart health, which could include prescribing medication, providing support to improve your lifestyle or referring you to see another health professional 

Call your GP to make an appointment for a Heart Health Check; it’s the most important phone call you will make today.

Find the time to get moving

Four out of five Australian adults don’t do enough physical activity to stay healthy (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2015). There are always reasons why we don’t exercise, walk, run, ride a bike, play sport; there’s not enough time, we’re too busy, we have other priorities.
Why can’t men make their heart health a top priority?

Today, our lives are more sedentary: we sit in the car or on public transport, many of us sit at a desk at work, we come home and sit down for dinner or to watch Netflix.

Not being active enough is responsible for 11% of the burden of cardiovascular disease (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2017). You need to move more for better heart health, but you don’t have to instantly go from couch to five kilometres. Here are some tips to get going:

  • Join a Heart Foundation Walking group and look for ways you can take more steps every day. Walking is great for your heart health and can help to prevent heart disease and type 2 diabetes
  • Break up your exercise into easy to manage blocks of time; it’s less daunting to exercise for 10 minutes three times each day than it is to do one 30-minute stretch
  • Start small; you won’t run a marathon on the first day of getting active. Begin with realistic goals, achieve them and then go on to bigger and better targets from there
  • Get the whole family involved, or get your mates on board: play footy or basketball, go for a bike ride or a run, or get a gym buddy

Cook and eat delicious heart-healthy meals

The Heart Foundation knows that one way to a healthier heart for Aussie men is through their stomachs; poor diet is the second highest risk factor for developing heart disease.

For example, Australians eat way too much salt; the average daily intake is 9 grams, almost twice the recommended amount. Why is salt so bad for your heart and where is all this salt in our diets coming from?

It’s the sodium in salt that harms heart health: a build-up of sodium in your blood can lead to high blood pressure, which increases your risk of developing heart disease. Foods that are packed with salt include snacks like chips and crackers, as well as ready-made sauces, processed meats, dips, and baked goods.

But, it’s not just salt. The link between eating red meat and developing cardiovascular disease means you should cut back on the amount you eat each week. The Heart Foundation recommends that across the week, you should eat less than 350g of unprocessed red meat (such as beef, pork or lamb). This means you can have about 1-3 lean red meat-based meals each week. Still, you should eat this together with vegetables, wholegrains and healthy cooking oils (such as olive, canola, sunflower, peanut and soybean oil).

What does a heart-healthy meal look like? Wow your family and friends by cooking some of our delicious heart-healthy recipes. Here are some heart-healthy meal tips:

  • The main foods on your plate should be plant foods: include lots of vegetables, fruits and wholegrain cereals, as well as legumes (chickpeas, beans and lentils)
  • Other great choices are fish and seafood
  • Add small servings of other animal-based products, such as milk, cheese, yoghurt, eggs, poultry and lean meat

Why is this way of eating better for your heart? This eating pattern is naturally low in saturated fat, added sugars and salt but high in fibre, vitamins and minerals.

Find out more and get on top of your blood pressure

Above we mentioned the link between salt and blood pressure, but why is high blood pressure so bad for your heart? Blood pressure is the pressure of your blood on the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it around your body. When your blood pressure is high over a long time, this becomes one of the main risk factors for heart disease.

It’s important to know that having high blood pressure has no clear symptoms; you can’t feel if you have this condition. That’s why it’s important to have a regular blood pressure check. If you are 18 or over get your blood pressure checked by your doctor at least every two years. If you are 45 and over, you should have your blood pressure checked as part of a regular, comprehensive heart health check.

Remember, eating a healthy diet and exercising can help to manage your blood pressure.

Learn about, and control, your cholesterol

Just like high blood pressure, high levels of ‘bad cholesterol’ (Low-Density Lipoprotein Cholesterol or LDL cholesterol) can lead to heart disease. The danger posed by this bad cholesterol comes from its ability to stick to the walls of your arteries, which causes a build-up known as plaque. This build-up can create blockages in your arteries and can increase your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

You can control your cholesterol levels, specifically the amount 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
  • Taking any cholesterol-lowering medications, as prescribed by your doctor 

In Men’s Health Week, you can highlight what it means to be heart healthy

A key part of Men’s Health Week is the call out for men to show what it means to be healthy. This year, you can set the example by following the tips and advice above to better look after your heart health.

 

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