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Keeping your heart healthy
heartfoundation.org.au|Helpline 13 11 12

Keeping your heart healthy

Keeping your heart healthy is something you can work on every day.

Key takeaways

  • A heart healthy diet is a pattern of food you eat over days, weeks and months. 
  • Regular physical activity reduces your risk of having a heart attack or developing heart disease. 
  • Quitting smoking decreases your risk of heart attack and stroke almost straight away. 
  • Understanding and controlling cholesterol and blood pressure is key to your heart health. 
Keeping your heart healthy is something you can work on every day.

What you eat, how much you move, whether you smoke and controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure are five things that can have a big impact on your heart.

Find out why they’re so important and get practical tips on living a heart healthy lifestyle. 
 

Tips for eating a heart healthy diet 

Healthy eating for a healthy heart is a pattern. It doesn’t focus on one type of food or nutrient, but rather on what you eat over days, weeks and months. 

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. 

Eat more fruit and vegetables 

A diet full of a variety of fruit and vegetables is linked to healthier hearts and a lower risk of heart disease. 

Swap to wholegrain 

Wholegrain cereals include more of the natural grain. This means they have more nutrients like dietary fibre, B vitamins, vitamin E, and healthy fats. 

Make healthy fat choices 

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. 

Use 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, a major risk factor for heart disease. 
 
Find out more about heart healthy eating patterns
 

Tips for being more 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.  
Regular physical activity can also help strengthen your bones and muscles. It can help you feel more energetic, happier and relaxed. 

Move more 

Any physical activity is better than none. 

Set realistic goals 

Start with small, realistic goals and work your way up to the recommended 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking) on most days of the week. 

Choose activities you enjoy 

When you enjoy being active, you’re more likely to do
it more often. 

Get social  

Stay motivated by doing physical activity together with a group of friends or family, or even with your dog. 

Sit less 

Adults who sit less throughout the day have a lower risk of early death, particularly from heart disease. 

Find out more about getting active and Heart Foundation Walking as a way to keep active. 
 

Tips to help you be smoke-free 

The first step to quitting is understanding the risks associated with 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. 

Keep trying 

Quitting smoking isn’t always easy. It can take persistence. You can do it with planning, practice, and help. 

Reach out for support 

If you’re finding it hard to quit, support is available. Call Quitline on 137 848. You can also talk to your doctor about options that might help you. 

Quit for loved ones 

To protect the health of your family and friends, stop smoking inside your home, car and other enclosed places. 

Do it now 

When you quit smoking, your risk of heart attack and stroke decreases almost straight away. 

Get more information and support to help you quit smoking.  
 

Tips to help you 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. Cholesterol is essential for the normal functioning of your body.  

There are two main types of cholesterol: 
 
  1. High-Density Lipoprotein: HDL or ‘good cholesterol’. 
  1. Low-Density Lipoprotein: LDL or ‘bad cholesterol’. 
‘Bad cholesterol’ can stick to the walls of your arteries,  causing a build-up of cholesterol, known as plaques. This build-up can create blockages in your arteries and contribute to increasing your risk of a heart attack or stroke. 

Get to know your dietary fats 

Eating too much saturated and trans fat can elevate blood cholesterol levels. Saturated and trans fats can be found in foods like pizza, cakes, biscuits, pastries and deep-fried foods. 

Eat a heart healthy diet 

Fresh foods should make up the main part of your diet. Choose a wide variety of fruit and vegetables and a variety of healthy protein sources including fish and seafood, lean meat, poultry, legumes, nuts and seeds. 

Get to know your levels 

A key step in controlling your cholesterol is finding out what your blood cholesterol levels are. If you’re 45 years or older (30 years or older for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples) you should see your doctor for a Heart Health Check. 

If your doctor recommends medication, take as prescribed 

The best way to reach your treatment goals and enjoy the benefits of better heart health is to follow the advice of your doctor or pharmacist and take medicines exactly as directed. 

For more tips and advice on managing your cholesterol, call the Heart Foundation Helpline on 13 11 12. All calls are answered by a qualified health professional. 
 

Tips to help 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. 

Get active 

Being regularly active helps to control high blood pressure and reduces your chances of having a heart attack or developing heart disease. 

Minimise your salt intake 

Eating a diet high in 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. 

Know your numbers 

You can’t feel high blood pressure. That’s why it’s important to get it checked and learn about how to manage it. 
 

See your doctor for a Heart Health Check 

If you are 45 years or older (30 years or older for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples), you should see your doctor for a Medicare-covered Heart Health Check. 

During a Heart Health Check, your doctor will assess your
risk factors for heart disease, including your: 
 
  • Blood pressure 
  • Cholesterol 
  • Diet  
  • Physical activity levels  
  • Medical and family history. 
Your doctor will then inform you whether you’re at low, moderate or high risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. The most important part of this check-up is working with your doctor to manage your risk factors to improve your heart health. 

A Heart Health Check involves 3 key steps 

1. Talk to your doctor 

Your doctor will start your check by talking with you about your heart disease risk factors. 

2. Learn about your risk 

Once your doctor knows your risk factors, they will enter this information into a web-based calculator to understand your risk of having a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. 

3. Manage your risk 

Depending on your result, your doctor may encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing, or give you advice, information and support to make heart-healthy changes 

Read more about heart health checks and why you should get one.

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