. The basics of heart health come back to exercise, nutrition and lifestyle

. Quit smoking, avoid stress, minimise alcohol and stay active

. Develop a diet that sources items from the five key food groups on a regular basis

Over the course of this article we will go through the basics of heart health and how best to look after that most important organ. The core tenets are exercise, nutrition and lifestyle. I’m sure many of you have heard the basics before but it’s good to remind ourselves from time to time. For a change, we’ll start with lifestyle. We can’t stress enough how important is to remove stress from your life. While that’s often easier said than done, everything else will flow from the basic philosophy of trying to live a stress free life.

Control the controllables, enjoy the simplicities and make it a point to spend time with your friends and family and those who bring with them a sunny disposition and positive energy. You will be amazed at how much better you feel once you cut negativity and negative people out of your life. Read a book, go for a walk, spend time outdoors and genuinely try and make time each week to unwind, relax and refresh. It’s impossible to stay ‘up’ all the time and you need that break mentally which helps you physically.

The other major steps you can take in regards to lifestyle are obviously to quit smoking, reduce your alcohol intake and generally try and stay fit and active. If you can do some sort of physical activity two to three times a week, cut out smoking completely and only take alcohol in moderation you will go a long way to reducing the risk of heart disease. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) smoking is the most ‘preventable cause of ill health and death in Australia’ but the good news is that the message is getting through. Eleven per cent of people aged 14 and over smoked regularly in 2019 which is down from 24 per cent in 1991.

That’s a positive trend line and one that is certainly good for the long term health of the nation. But alcohol is obviously the other lifestyle choice that needs to be kept in moderation to prevent not just anti-social behaviour but also to prevent any long-term health issues from arising. According to the AIHW one in four people consumes alcohol at a level that places them in harm on a single occasion and one in six people takes alcohol at levels that places their long term health in jeopardy and these are obviously slightly concerning statistics. But the key is obviously moderation and common sense, and if you apply those two principles you should be fine.

The next point we will look at is nutrition. The key point with nutrition is balance. You have to develop a balanced diet that gives you sufficient nutrients and energy from all the key food groups. As a general rule, a balanced diet is considered to be one that takes the key elements of the five food groups of vegetables, fruit, grains and cereals, dairy such as milk, cheese and yoghurt and the group that provides much needed protein such as lean meats, poultry, fish and eggs.

If you make it a point of sourcing the key elements from those five food groups on a regular basis you will be well on your way to achieving a well balanced diet which will certainly go a long way to preserving your long term health. But there is certainly some work to do. According to the AIHW, only one in ten adults in Australia met the recommendations for daily vegetable consumption in 2017-18 and there was also an unhealthy intake of discretionary and counterproductive foods such as salt, fat and sugar.

And finally we will look at exercise and the role that plays in terms of maintaining a healthy body. An American research paper concluded that a lack of physical activity can be responsible for over 35 chronic diseases and conditions. These include coronary artery disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other high cardiovascular risk factors. The evidence presented suggests that a lack of physical activity increases the decline in skeletal muscle strength and cognition which can lead to ‘both shorter health span and early mortality.’

This is particularly relevant to older Australians. According to the AIHW, 75 per cent of people over the age of 65 were not sufficiently active in 2014/15. Another American research paper suggested that the evidence is there that regular physical activity is safe for older people and that a lot of the high risks ailments such as cardiovascular diseases and cognitive impairments decrease through regular exercise. While the percentages are certainly better, younger people also need to be mindful to exercise adequately. A national health survey in 2014/15 indicated that almost one in three 18-64 year olds were not sufficiently active per the recommended 150 minutes per week while just under 15 per cent were completely inactive and did no exercise at all over the course of a week.

This is obviously a recipe for problems down the road and it’s important to get into a rhythm early on and maintain that as you get older to avoid any long term health problems that are bound to arise if you maintain an inactive and sedantary lifestyle. According to the ABS, if ‘Australians did an extra 15 minutes of brisk walking for at least five days each week this would reduce disease burden due to physical inactivity in the population by approximately 13%.’ If this was increased to 30 minutes the burden of disease could be reduced by up to 26%.

So the incentive is certainly there to stay active and healthy and give ourselves the best possible chance of preserving our long term health by just doing a little bit of exercise each week on a consistent basis. These are the basics of heart health and in the weeks ahead we will take a deep dive into some of the more important components but that’s a general overview of some steps you can take in regards to exercise, nutrition and wellbeing to keep yourself fit and healthy.

References

AIHW Smoking stats

https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/behaviours-risk-factors/smoking/overview

AIWH Alcohol stats

https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/behaviours-risk-factors/alcohol/overview

AIHW Fruit and Veg stats

https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-data/behaviours-risk-factors/food-nutrition/overview

NCBI: Role of Inactivity in Chronic Diseases: Evolutionary Insight and Pathophysiological Mechanisms  

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6347102/

NCBI: Physical activity in older age: perspectives for healthy ageing and frailty  

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4889622/

ABS health stats

https://www1.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/health-pubhlth-strateg-active-evidence.htm

AIHW fitness stats

https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/australias-health/australias-health-2018/contents/indicators-of-australias-health/physical-inactivity