You might have identified that you are at risk, or just want to adopt a healthy lifestyle. Here are some useful tips.

Quit smoking

It is never too late to quit smoking. This is the best thing you can do, not only for you but also for your family.

As soon as you quit, you start repairing your body, reduce your risk and gain many other health benefits. You will improve your circulation by reducing your heart rate and blood pressure almost immediately. Within a few days you will have improvements in being able to taste your food better, and in a few months your lungs will improve by over a third. In a year, you would have cut your risk of a heart attack by 50%.

Tips for quitting smoking:

  • Identify important reasons as to why you want to quit and write them down
  • Decide on a quit date and stick to it (a quick new year’s resolution is not always the best time!)
  • Decide on your strategy. For example, do you intend on going cold turkey, use nicotine replacement therapy or use an SMS or internet support service to keep you on track?
  • Ask for help. Find support that works for you. Talk to your GP about ways to prevent withdrawal symptoms. Tell your friends and family your intention to stop smoking and get them on board to assist you in your attempt to quit
  • Understand your own smoking behaviour and what triggers your desire to smoke. Develop a plan to distract yourself so you can avoid the triggers and perhaps put a healthy substitute in place!
  • If you fail to quit the first time, you must keep trying. Research shows that the success rate of quitting is higher if you never quit quitting!

Support channels

Call QUITLINE: 13QUIT (13 78 48)
Visit the website: http://www.quit.org.au/

Visit the website: https://smokefree.gov/

Mobile apps

My QuitBuddy helps you get, and stay, smoke-free. It’s with you through the hardest times with helpful tips and distractions to overcome cravings; tracking systems to chart your progress and all the facts you need to understand the impact smoking has on your health.

Apple App Store | Google Play Store | Windows Phone Store

Smotivator is an app that inspires you to stop smoking. It also helps you keep track of your progress after you quit the habit.

Google Play Store

Manage your blood pressure

Your blood pressure is a measurement of how ‘hard’ your heart is working to push blood around your body, through the blood vessels.

Raised blood pressure, known has hypertension is estimated to cause 7.5 million deaths, about 12.8% of the total of all deaths worldwide.

Hypertension is more common among men before the age of 55 years, but is more common among women after that age limit. There can also be other times during a woman’s life (such as pregnancy) when blood pressure can be raised and this might need specialist attention.

Do you know that hypertension is a ‘silent killer’?

On average, 70% of people having their first heart attack and 80% of people having their first stroke have hypertension. In addition, uncontrolled blood pressure can damage your kidneys and eyes. Evidence suggests that women do have an increased awareness and more likely to be treated than men, however; there needs to be more awareness among older women.

Do you know the causes of hypertension?

Besides your family history which you can’t change, there are other factors for hypertension which are under your control such as increased weight, unhealthy diet specifically rich in salt and sodium, lack of physical activity, smoking and alcohol intake.

What can you do to manage your high blood pressure?

How do you know that you are at risk?

The only way to know this is to have your blood pressure measured. This can be done at home with a digital blood pressure machine but initially it is advised that you go to your Physician/ GP and be assessed so you know your recording.

Your blood pressure is recorded as two numbers. The upper number is known as systolic pressure, which indicates the pressure the heart exerts to pump out blood to the body. The lower number known as diastolic pressure, which is the pressure when the heart relaxes. Both are important in telling you how the heart functions.

 Upper number / Systolic pressure Lower number / Diastolic pressure
 Hypotension  Less than 90 mm Hg  Less than 60 mm Hg
 Normal  Less than 120 mm Hg  Less than 80 mm Hg
 At risk of hypertension (prehypertension)  121-129 mm Hg  80 mm Hg or less
 Hypertension  130 mm Hg or higher  80 mm Hg or higher

Eat a healthy diet

You need to have a healthy and well-balanced diet, which will not only improve your weight, but will also reduce your blood pressure, reduce your cholesterol and have a positive effect on your mood.

Tips for healthy eating:

  • Have variety and balance in your daily eating. Try to eat the requirement of 5 serves of fresh fruit and vegetables. Ensure you have enough whole grains as these have been found to reduce the risk of heart disease.
  • Reduce salt intake in your diet. The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) advises that Australian adults should aim to consume no more than one teaspoon (4 grams) of salt a day (or 1,600 mg of sodium a day) in order to prevent chronic disease including heart disease.
  • Keep well hydrated and drink 6-8 glasses of water each day. For those who have diabetes, you need to discuss with your doctor.
  • Make a habit to read the food labels prior to purchasing any food and choose the healthy one. Compare the sugar, fat, sodium and energy content of different brands. Reduce trans-fat intake and ‘quick’ cooking packaged foods such as rice as the grains are broken down to cook faster and contain less fibre.
  • If you drink alcohol, limit it to no more than two standard drinks per day. Try to eat before going out, and have a glass of water after each alcoholic drink to stay hydrated.

Be active

It is recommended that you do some moderate physical activity which makes you sweat, or exercise for at least 20-30 minutes every day to cut your risk in half. Even starting with 10 minutes of exercise at a time is helpful.

Physical activity can help in so many ways as it lowers your blood pressure and blood sugar, burns calories (so reduces your weight); clears bad cholesterol from your body and reduces your stress levels by getting rid of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Activity can also reduce depression by raising the good feel hormone in your brain and can strengthen your bones so effectively reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis. Exercise should be in your daily routine so try to make it a healthy habit.

Tips to be active regularly:

  • Think about getting a pedometer to count your steps, use a Fitbit or if you have smartphone download a walking App as this is also a great motivator, try to aim for 10,000 steps a day!
  • Try to do as much ‘incidental’ exercise as possible. Examples include taking the stairs instead of the lifts, get off the bus/train one stop earlier and walk to work!
  • Try to do exercise in groups or walk with a friend. You are less likely to NOT let someone else down if you have planned to exercise together.

At work:

  • Try and not to sit for too long. Use meetings as a chance to stand and suggest walking meetings.
  • Drink more water. Going to the bathroom and getting water will break up sitting time.
  • Move the bin further away from you so you have to get up to use it.
  • Rotate your sitting tasks with standing tasks across your shift.

At home:

  • Cleaning the house such as vacuuming, gardening and washing your car is a form of physical activity.
  • Move around the house as you check your messages on your mobile.
  • Stand or walk while you speak on the phone.
  • Be active whilst watching TV. Do a mini-core workout such as crunches during the ad breaks.
  • If walking a dog is part of your routine, add in an extra block or steep hill to the walk.

Control your blood sugar

One person every five minutes develops diabetes, that is 280 Australians every day.

Poor control of blood glucose means a higher risk of developing diabetes complications. Adults with diabetes are 2-4 times more likely to have heart disease than adults without diabetes.

Diabetes in pregnancy is common, affecting about 1 in 20 pregnancies. Mothers with pre-existing diabetes are more likely to have delivery complications, hypertension and longer stay in hospital compared to mothers without having diabetes in pregnancy.

How do you know that you are at risk?

You can check your fasting blood/plasma glucose level to determine the levels of sugar you have in your body. Fasting means after not having anything to eat or drink (except water) for at least 8 hours before the test. This test is usually done first thing in the morning, before breakfast.

If you do not fast and want to check your blood glucose randomly, the level 200 mg/dl indicates risk of diabetes. If the blood glucose levels are higher than normal but not yet high enough to be diagnosed as diabetes, the condition is known as prediabetes.

How can you prevent diabetes?

The majority of the diabetes is type 2, which can be prevented by addressing the risk factors. Type 1 diabetes develops due to immune disorder of the body and can’t be prevented, but can be treated accordingly. People at risk of type 2 diabetes can delay and even prevent the condition by maintaining the following habits:

  • Have low carbohydrate diet
  • Increase high fibre diet
  • Drink water instead of beverages
  • Monitor and control your serve size: use smaller plates, eat slowly
  • Exercise regularly: brisk walking, running, biking, dancing, hiking, swimming
  • Lose weight if you are overweight
  • Control your stress
  • Monitor blood sugar
  • Get quality sleep

If your doctor has advised you to have medication to control your blood sugar, have those regularly to prevent further complications.

What should you consume more to lower your blood sugar?

Increase your “heart healthy” diet. Scientific evidence suggests that the following food items can lower your blood sugar:

  • Vegetables, fruits, legumes and whole grains
  • Avocados, nuts, seeds, olives, olive oil
  • Cinnamon
  • Garlic
  • Blackberries and blueberries
  • Cherries
  • Coffee, chia seeds, barley, lemons, sweet potatoes
  • Apple cider vinegar

Reduce your stress levels

Living in a constant state of stress is not good for you, for your family or friends or for your work colleagues.

Being on “high alert” allows cortisol to build up and this can lead to heart disease. It is imperative that you take breaks in the day.

Tips to reduce your stress level:

  • Ensure you are getting sufficient sleep – we all need 6-8 hours a night
  • Make time to eat a balanced diet
  • Do regular exercise
  • Have a positive outlook, read books, watch a comedy (known to lift your mood)
  • Try to have a hobby, something that you enjoy. This could be cooking, sewing, gardening, painting or reading – something that you do that makes you feel relaxed and renewed.
  • Keep well connected and make the effort to socialise with your family and friends.
  • Devote some parts of your day for “timeout” or “quiet time” for your brain. This can be in the form of meditation, worship or mindfulness.
  • Disconnect from all electronic devices and the internet at least 1 hour before bed. The white LED light is known to affect the body clock and disturb sleep.
  • If you continue to feel stressed it is important to talk to your GP and seek help.

Get a heart health check up

Every year take time to have your health checked by your GP! Try to do this at the same time every year.

Combine your heart health check along with a regular PAP smear test, breast examination and as you get older consider other follow-ups such as a bone density scan.

If you are diabetic, have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, it is very important to have an understanding about your condition. You can keep it under control by:

  • Adopting a healthy lifestyle.
  • Visiting your GP regularly and get to know your numbers.
  • Following the management protocol suggested by your doctor.

Don’t know what to ask your doctor on your next doctor’s visit? Get our Heart Health Checklist.