Every 30 minutes, one Australian loses their life to heart disease, yet it takes less than 30 minutes to know your risk.
For this year’s Heart Week (1–7 May 2023), the Heart Foundation is encouraging Aussies to act now and do three simple things to look after their heart – book a Heart Health Check with your GP, check your blood pressure and use the Heart Age Calculator to understand your risk of heart disease.
Talking point #1: Do you know your blood pressure?
High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for heart disease. The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked regularly, even if you’re feeling well and healthy.
veryone aged 18 and over should have their blood pressure measured at least once every two years. Blood pressure can be measured at home using a validated machine, at a pharmacy via a SiSu Health Station , or by a doctor or nurse as part of a Medicare funded Heart Health Check.
Talking point #2: Calculate your heart age
It takes 3 minutes to find out with the Heart Age Calculator, designed to help you understand your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Intended for those aged between 35 and 75, the Calculator uses well-known risk factors for heart disease such as age, sex, blood pressure and cholesterol to estimate your risk compared to a defined healthy range.
If your heart age is higher than your actual age, you may be at a higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke and should speak to your GP about getting a Heart Health Check.
Talking point #3: help to save the Medicare Heart Health Check
More than 25,000 Australians have now signed a petition calling for the Australian Government to extend funding for the Medicare Heart Health Check beyond June 30th.
Medicare Benefits Scheme data for February shows that nearly 440,000 Australians have taken the Check since they launched in 2019, well on track to reach around 500,000 Checks in the coming months and surpass the original 450,000 target.
Talking point #4: We are what we eat – how a Healthy Eating Pattern will always trump a fad diet
Data shows that more than 90% of Australian kids and adults don’t eat enough fruit and vegetables.
The average Australian gets a third of their daily energy from discretionary foods – foods that are high in unhealthy fats, added sugars, and added salt.
So – how can people make small, effective and long-lasting changes to their eating patterns in a world where some of the most tempting foods are often the worst for our heart health?
The answer for most Australians may lie with the Heart Foundation’s Heart Healthy Eating Pattern. Senior dietitian, Jemma O’Hanlon, is available for interviews.
Talking point #5: Movement as medicine – how and why walking is the best way to keep your heart healthy
Walking for an average of 30 minutes or more a day can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke by 35% percent and Type 2 diabetes by 40%.
It’s not just your heart and muscles that benefit from walking.
Regular physical activity can help:
- reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke
- manage weight, blood pressure and blood cholesterol
- prevent and control diabetes
- reduce your risk of developing some cancers
- maintain your bone density, reducing your risk of osteoporosis and fractures
- improve balance and coordination, reducing your risk of falls and other injuries
- improve our daily mood which cumulatively leads to better mental health
All adults aged 18-64 years should aim for 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week. That’s 30 minutes on five days of the week. It’s considered ‘moderate’ if it takes some effort, but you’re still able to talk comfortably.
Walking Program coordinator Elizabeth Calleja is available for interview requests.
Other talent available for interview:
Natalie Raffoul, Heart Foundation Healthcare Programs Manager
“The Heart Foundation encourages everyone aged 18 and over to have their blood pressure measured at least once every two years – if you have these regular check-ups to measure your blood pressure levels and they are high, then your GP will support you to manage it.
“Left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to irreversible blood vessel damage, increasing your risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease.
“Over half of Australians live with three or more modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Modifiable risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, account for 90% of the risk of heart attack.
“Prevalence of high blood pressure increases with age, with almost four out of five adults living with hypertension by the age of 75 years.
I wish I had access to a Heart Health Check prior to my heart attack in 2015.
I was super fit and healthy and working in a gym when I had my heart attack (on a cruise ship in the middle of the ocean) and there were no early warning signs until it was too late.
I now recommend to all friends and family and clients to go and get a Heart Health Check – you can’t assume like me that just being fit and healthy means you aren’t at risk.”
Emma Wilson, Heart attack survivor
Dean Picone, Heart Foundation currently-funded researcher (University of Tasmania)
Research project: Saving lives with better blood pressure measurement
“My research vision is to achieve better blood pressure measurement to minimize the burden of preventable cardiovascular disease (CVD).
“High blood pressure is the leading modifiable risk factor for CVD.
“There is an opportunity to improve the way BP is measured for many people.
“My research to date has identified the level of inaccuracy, potential causes and possible solutions.”
Liliana Laranjo, Heart Foundation currently-funded researcher (University of Sydney)
Research project: Digital care and conversational intelligence for cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention
“Digital health has great potential to support cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention, but real-world benefits have been slow to realise.
“My project will generate key knowledge and bridge the evidence gap on the determinants of effectiveness, engagement, and successful implementation of digital health interventions for CVD prevention.”
Associate Professor Lisa Moran, Head of the Healthy Lifestyle Research Program, Monash Centre for Health and Reproductive Medicine, Monash Victorian Heart Institute.
- How nutrition affects the occurrence of disease, including heart disease
- Optimal obesity intervention methods for Australian women to reduce the side effects of polycystic ovary syndrome, diabetes and heart disease
“Many of the key risk factors for heart disease are called behavioral risk factors which means that we can improve them ourselves. These include diet, exercise and smoking.
“By targeting these behaviors, up to 80 per cent of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke could be avoided. Managing these risk factors can also manage heart disease if you already have it.”
Professor Julian Smith, Head, Monash University Department of Surgery (School of Clinical Sciences at Monash Health), and Senior Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Monash Health
- Cardiac surgery
- Cardiac surgery risk factors
- Cardiac surgery prevention strategies
“Health checks are vital in detecting heart disease especially in the early stages, because if treated early and successfully, the patient may not need surgery.”
Background on blood pressure
- High blood pressure contributes to more death and disability worldwide than any other risk factor.
- Around 20 million Australians, who should be having their blood pressure checked every two years, may not be doing so, putting them at significant risk of heart attack or stroke.
- High blood pressure is a leading risk factor for heart disease; almost half (45.5%) of all cardiovascular disease (CVD) events are attributed to high blood pressure.
- There are no obvious signs or symptoms if you’re suffering from high blood pressure, so the only way to find out if you have it is to have it checked regularly – even if you’re feeling well and healthy.
- Blood pressure is the pressure of your blood on the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps it around your body.
- A ‘normal’ blood pressure reading would be:
- Systolic BP (top number) under 120 mm Hg
- Diastolic BP (bottom number) under 80 mmHg
- Your blood pressure will go up and down naturally throughout the day, with your blood pressure going up temporarily due to stress, your emotional state, recent physical activity, caffeine consumption and even talking.
- Your doctor will tell you what your ideal blood pressure should be, based on your medical history.
- High blood pressure – also called hypertension – is when your blood pressure is consistently higher than normal.
- Often this threshold is when your blood pressure is consistently higher than 140/90 mmHg.