Your heart works away every day to keep your body moving and your brain functioning. It’s easy to assume your heart is fine and doing its job – but how often do you really think about your heart’s health?
Cardiovascular or heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia with many not realising they’re at risk. ‘Cardiovascular Disease’ (CVD) includes heart attacks, strokes and blood vessel diseases.
Here are some frightening CVD statistics:
- One in six Australians live with heart disease (more than 4 million Australians).
- Heart disease is responsible for causing one in four of all deaths in Australia.
- On average, 118 Australians die from heart disease each day (one person every 12 minutes).
It’s time to ask yourself, is my lifestyle ‘heart healthy’? Do my habits lower my risk of heart disease? There are some key things you can do to maintain a healthy heart, and we’ve got all the info, tips and resources below to help you!
1. Eat a healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet can greatly help to protect your heart’s health! Eating for a healthy heart is not a phase, it’s a lifestyle, a pattern. It’s not about focusing on one type of food or nutrient, but rather what you eat over weeks and months.
35% of the average Australian’s diet is currently made up of nutrient-poor, highly- processed foods. To keep your heart healthy and strong, the Heart Foundation says you should instead eat nutrient-rich foods. A diet naturally low in unhealthy fats, salt and added sugar, and rich in whole-grains, fibre, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats is ideal. 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. Also, avoid salt in your diet as the sodium in it is it is bad for your heart; it raises blood pressure. Instead, choose to flavour your food with a mix of other herbs and spices.
How can HCI help?
HCI’s ‘Healthy Extras’ and ‘Premier Extras’ packages offer cover for Dietician consultations, to help you on your journey to eating healthy and lowering your risk of heart disease (and other medical conditions)!*
For more info & diet tips, check out the Heart Foundation’s ‘How to Eat Well for a Healthy Heart’.
2. Exercise often
Our heart is a muscle, and just like other muscles, it needs exercise to remain strong and healthy! Doing regular physical activity greatly reduces your risk of developing heart disease, but sadly 4 in 5 Australians don’t do it enough!
The Heart Foundation says you should aim to be active five or more days each week, for 30-45 minutes per day. Regular exercise helps your heart by lowering blood pressure, lowering cholesterol and stimulating good blood circulation. Exercising also strengthens bones and muscles, and generally makes you feel energetic, happier and relaxed.
To increase your physical activity start with simple, realistic goals. Block out a small window of time each day for exercise, even if it is just for a short stroll. Choose physical activities you actually enjoy, and stay motivated by doing exercise with a group of friends or family. Just get moving, any exercise is better than none!
How can HCI help?
HCI’s ‘Healthy Extras’ & ‘Active Life Extras’ packages are here to support you on your health journey! They offer differing levels of cover for Physiotherapy services, and Natural Therapies like Remedial Massage, to help your body recover, avoid injury and stay in tip-top condition! *
3. Stop smoking
Smoking impacts many aspects of your health, especially your heart health. If you smoke, you are four times more likely to die of heart disease! Smoking affects the vessels that supply blood to your heart and other parts of your body. It reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood and damages blood vessel walls; increasing their stiffness, making it harder for them to expand and contract as needed.
Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your heart, and the great news is that it’s never too late! One year after quitting, your risk of a heart attack or stroke is reduced by half. After 5 to 15 years, your risk of heart disease returns to that of someone who has never smoked! If you’ve tried to quit smoking before and haven’t been successful, try again; most smokers take multiple attempts to quit. We know it's tough, but it's tougher to recover from a heart attack/stroke or to live with chronic heart disease!
How can HCI help?
HCI’s Healthy Extras & Premier Extras packages can help you quit smoking by providing cover for a range of helpful programs, such as the Alan Carr Quit Smoking Program and 30 Day Quit Stop Now Program*. They also cover hypnotherapy consultations specifically designed for quitting smoking by a registered hypnotherapist. *
For more info & support, visit the Quitline website or call them on 13 7848.
4. Manage stress
Stress can seriously affect your health and is a key factor for heart disease.
Some common causes of stress include mental health conditions (e.g. anxiety), major life events/changes (e.g., death of a loved one), relationships (e.g., conflict or break-ups), health problems (e.g., chronic illness), or Work-related ‘stressors’ (e.g., exams or meetings)
Stress can directly harm your heart; causing strain, increased inflammation and high blood pressure. Stress can also affect your heart in more indirect ways; when you’re worried you tend to sleep poorly, exercise less, make unhealthy food choices, and/or don’t watch your weight as closely. If you’re struggling with any kind of stress, it’s ALWAYS OK to ask for help! Start by visiting your GP, who can help you manage your levels of stress or put you in touch with a Psychologist.
How can HCI help?
HCI’s ‘Healthy Extras’ and ‘Premier Extras’ packages provide cover for Psychology consults (including initial consultations, subsequent consultations and group sessions), that can greatly help you navigate and cope with life’s stressors! *
For more info & support:
Depending on your situation, the following organisations & services are here to help…
- Beyond Blue: call 1300 224 636 or visit their website.
- Crisis Support (Lifeline): call them on 13 11 14, text them on 0477 13 11 14, or visit their website.
5. Maintain a healthy weight
Almost 2 in 3 Australians are overweight or obese, and this number is rising.
Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is super important in lowering your risk of heart disease and protecting your heart from damage or fatigue. When your weight is in a healthy range your blood circulates more effectively and necessary fluid levels are managed, preventing strain on your heart.
Good nutrition, controlling calorie intake and physical activity are the only way to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. So how do you find out your ‘ideal’ healthy weight? Calculating your Body Mass Index (BMI), which considers your gender and height as well as your weight, is one of the best ways!
How can HCI help?
HCI’s ‘Healthy Extras’ and ‘Premier Extras’ packages provide cover for popular weight loss programs such as: Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, CSIRO’s ‘Total Wellbeing Diet, Michelle Bridges 12 Week Body Transformation*. They also cover hypnotherapy specifically designed to help with weight loss by a registered hypnotherapist*. Please note: HCI extras does not pay benefits for food, weight loss shakes or meal replacement products.
6. Control diabetes
Having diabetes increases your chance of developing heart disease, and 280 Australians develop diabetes every day (one person every 5 minutes)!
If you’re diabetic you’re more likely to also have other health problems/conditions that cause heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or obesity. People with diabetes are between two and four times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, and heart disease is the main cause of death among people
If you’re living with diabetes, it’s very important
to maintain a healthy lifestyle and manage your condition to ensure a healthy heart. Make sure you eat a healthy diet, exercise often, manage your cholesterol and blood pressure levels, don't smoke, and most importantly take your medication as prescribed by your doctor!
How can HCI help?
HCI’s ‘Healthy Extras’ and ‘Premier Extras’ packages cover the cost of consultations to do with Diabetes Education to help you keep your diabetes under control*. The ‘Premier Extras’ package also can cover your Diabetes Australia Membership.
For more info & support, visit the Diabetes Australia website.
* There is an annual limit imposed on the dollar amount that can be claimed per service, per year & all programs must be approved by the Fund.