Coronary heart disease is the most common cause of death in Australia according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Coronary heart disease is a condition in which the arteries become too narrow and it becomes difficult for blood vessels to supply blood and oxygen to the heart.
Maintaining good heart health is important for your overall wellbeing now and in the future.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise on a regular basis
- Eat a nutritious and varied diet
- Do not smoke
- Watch your booze intake
- Get enough Zzzs
- Keep an eye on stress levels
1. Maintain a healthy weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is important for your heart health. Weight gain or consistently being overweight is linked to high blood cholesterol, high blood pressure and an increased risk of developing type two diabetes, all of which can damage your heart.
One way to know whether you’re at a healthy weight is to calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI).
The Heart Foundation has a great online tool to calculate your BMI. BMI has some drawbacks in the fact that some people may be carrying a lot of muscle as opposed to harmful fat (the BMI calculator will not know that you’re carrying around that muscle and will only take your weight into consideration — not what makes up that weight).
It’s also important to note that your weight goes up and down. Your weight might even go up and down a few times a day, and it can depend on things like when you ate your last meal, whether your body is holding onto water or what time of day it is.
Still, if your BMI is higher than it should be, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor for advice.
Another useful way to get an idea of whether you’re at a healthy weight is measuring the distance around your waist. The Australian Department of Health says that for men, a waist circumference of over 94 cm indicates an increased risk for chronic health conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Exercise on a regular basis
Exercising on a regular basis plays a role in strengthening your heart health.
Exercising lowers your risk of developing heart disease because it lowers cholesterol in the blood, improves circulation, lowers your blood pressure, and lowers your risk of developing type two diabetes.
If you’re not someone who regularly exercises, the idea of starting can be a little bit daunting, but there are so many ways to get creative with how you get enough exercise in each week. You could go for a brisk walk, cycle, jog, run, swim, dance, or play any kind of team sports.
The Australian Government Department of Health encourages people aged between 18-64 years of age to engage in physical activity every day of the week or to get 150-300 minutes of exercise each week.
If you’re doing 150 minutes of exercise each week, it’s recommended that this exercise is vigorous and at a fairly high intensity (things that make you breathe harder and faster, like running).
If you are doing 300 minutes of exercise each week, this can be fair to moderate activity (activities you do while still having a conversation like playing golf or going for a brisk walk).
It’s also recommended that a combination of moderate to vigorous activity is undertaken each week, including muscle strengthening activities (like lifting weights or digging in the garden) at least twice a week.
Eat a nutritious varied diet
The dietary choices you make today make an impact on your health tomorrow. Your diet can play a role in deciding a lot of things, like your weight, your cholesterol levels, your blood pressure, and your chances of developing type two diabetes.
Eating a nutritious varied diet is one of the best things you can do for your health, particularly for your heart. Having high levels of cholesterol in your blood contributes to coronary heart disease. Buildup of cholesterol in the walls of your arteries (the blood vessels that carry blood from your heart to the rest of the body) can lead to the arteries to become narrower so blood flow becomes reduced. This increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Advice from the Heart Foundation says you should aim to include lots of fresh fruit and vegetables into your diet. Where possible cut down on fast food and processed foods like chips, sweet baked treats and soft drinks.
When you are eating meat, go for lean cuts. Aim to incorporate more fish into your diet or other sources of proteins such as beans, lentils, tofu, and eggs.
Imagine that you want your daily intake of food to look like a rainbow and eat as much fresh food as you can. Your heart will thank you for it!
Smoking is bad for your health; including your heart as smoking damages the heart and the blood vessels that carry blood to and from the heart.
Smoking may cause fatty deposits to build up in the arteries in the same way that high cholesterol does (this process is known as ‘atherosclerosis’). Smoking over a long period of time can cause the arteries to narrow and become stiff, which can increase your risk of having a heart attack.
On a day-to-day basis, smoking affects your ability to breathe, so if you‘re exercising you may be wheezing and coughing. Smoking also makes it harder to feel the positive benefits of exercise and you won’t get the same benefits of exercising that a non-smoker would.
If you are a smoker, visiting your GP may help in your bid to cut down smoking, as they can help you come up with an action plan to give the habit up. The Department of Health has a great list of websites and helplines that can point you in the right direction.
Watch your booze intake
The Department of Health recommends that both men and women have no more than 10 standard drinks per week and no more than 4 standard drinks per day.
Here are a few examples of what a standard drink looks like:
- 285 mL of full-strength beer (4.8% alc. vol)
- 375mL of mid strength beer (3.5% alc. vol)
- 425 mL of low strength beer (2.7% alc. vol)
- 100 mL of wine (red - 13% alc. vol, and white – 11.5% alc. vol)
- 100 mL of champagne (12% alc. vol)
- 30 mL of spirits (40% alc. vol)
- 275 mL bottle of ready-to-drink beverage (5% alcohol content)
Drinking too much alcohol is bad for the heart. In the short term, it increases your heart rate and blood pressure. In the long term, it may lead to weakened heart muscle due to ongoing high blood pressure.
Alcohol can raise cholesterol in the blood in the same way that smoking cigarettes can, leading to a higher risk of both heart attack and stroke.
Drinking too much alcohol doesn’t just affect your physical health but it also affects your mental health. Alcohol is a depressant (a drug that reduces stimulation in the brain). Even without causing a hangover, it can make us feel demotivated, tired, and moody. In addition, hangovers can take a full day to recover from so you’ll be less likely to take part in healthy behaviors, like exercise or eating well.
When you’re drinking alcohol, try to imagine the next day. Strive not to waste your Sundays with a hangover. The Daybreak app is a government-backed support app to help you tackle your relationship with drinking — check it out.
Get enough Zzzs
Getting enough high-quality sleep is important for both your physical and mental health. Adults who sleep less than seven hours each night are more likely to report health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes according to Health Direct — these three conditions can all have a negative impact on your heart.
So, aim to get eight hours of sleep every night. Stick to a regular sleeping schedule so that you’re waking up and going to bed at the same time every night to help get into a better sleeping routine, and most importantly, put your phone away! Tomorrow’s worries can wait until tomorrow.
When you wake up, you should feel physically and mentally refreshed and recharged. If it helps, keep track of your sleep so you can find the sleep groove that works for you.
Keep an eye on stress levels
It might surprise you to hear that your stress levels may have an impact on your heart health. While stress doesn’t directly increase your risk of heart disease or a heart attack, it may contribute to behaviors that put your health at risk.
Everyone has a different response to stress. Stress responses could include overeating as a source of comfort, drinking a little bit too much, smoking cigarettes, not getting the sleep you need, and not finding enough time to exercise.
Chronic long-term stress can have a devastating impact on your health over time, so stress management is not something that should be put off. Your sense of wellbeing should be prioritised as much as you prioritise your work, family and friends.
Have a think about the times when you feel most relaxed and then try to work these activities in to your day on a regular basis to promote good heart health as well as your overall sense of wellness.
For more helpful resources on men’s health, visit our resource library.