There is much research, fundraising and publicity dedicated to breast cancer in Australia, yet Women's Heart Health seems to be an unspoken topic. Did you know the heart disease is actually the biggest killer of Australian women? According to the Australian Heart Foundation, heart disease kills more women each year than breast cancer. Heart disease kills one Aussie woman every hour, every day. Scary, huh? So why aren't we talking about it? Well now is the time - Thursday 11th June 2015 is Go Red for Women Day, the Heart Foundation's biggest fundraiser for women's heart disease.
The term 'Heart Disease' (or 'cardiovascular disease or CVD) includes having either a heart attack or a stroke. Heart disease affects women of all ages, with the major risk factors being high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight or obese. Many people do not even know if they have these conditions, and thus it is important to visit your GP regularly for check ups and a risk assessment. The good news is that heart disease is preventable, and, even if you have already been diagnosed with heart disease, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
What you eat and how much you move your body are key factors for your heart health. Here are some steps you can take NOW to improve your heart health:
1. Be Active - Be active for at least 30 minutes each day. You may cringe at the thought of "exercise," so look for options that appeal to you. Instead of hitting the gym or pounding the pavement, look for activities which you enjoy. It may be a yoga class, a game of tennis, swimming, dancing in your lounge room or playing frisbee or kick-to-kick with your kids. Look for every opportunity to move; even little things like parking your car in the furthest carpark, getting off the bus one stop early, or taking the stairs instead of the escalator, all add up to benefit your heart.
2. Limit unhealthy fats - the type and amount of fat you eat has an impact on your heart health. Limit foods high in trans fats and saturated fat, such as take away, deep fried foods, pastries, short-breads and processed snacks such as chips and chocolates. Also make an effort to choose lean meats - that is, avoid highly marbled meat and remove the outer white fat from meat and the skin from chicken.
3. Opt for heart healthy fats - include foods containing poly-unsaturated and mono-unsaturated fats in your diet. These foods include olive oil, canola oil, avocado, fish, nuts and seeds. Aim to have fish 2-3 times per week for optimal heart health. Include a 30g handful of nuts regularly also. You can read more about nuts and heart health here.
4. Fibre up - fibre is critical for the management of blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and thus overall heart health. Aim to eat around 30g of fibre each day. This can be achieved by eating 2 pieces of fruit and 5 serves of vegetables each day (1 serve = 75g vegetables) as well as wholegrains and legumes. Choose wholegrain carbohydrates such as oats, quinoa, brown rice and multigrain bread rather than refined white versions. Legumes are a fantastic, versatile, nutritious and cheap way to boost your fibre intake, so try throwing some kidney beans in your stews or some chickpeas or bean mix in salads. Check out the Australian Grains and Legumes Council website for more tasty ways to increase the fibre in your diet.
5. Cut the salt - salt is a key culprit for raising blood pressure. Australians eat a great amount of salt each day through processed foods such as take away, convenience meals, bread, breakfast cereals, tinned foods and ready-to-eat sauces, spreads and marinades. Avoid adding salt to your cooking and remove the salt shaker from the dinner table. Flavour your meals with other options such as fresh or dried herbs, spices, pepper or lemon juice. Your food will taste different initially, but persevere, as your taste buds will adapt with time!
6. Limit added sugars - eating a very high sugar diet can affect your weight and in turn, your heart health. Foods which are high in added sugars tend to be the highly processed foods which are low in fibre and nutrients, and therefore not nutritious anyway! Keep high sugar foods such as cakes, biscuits, lollies, chocolate and soft drink for special occassions only. Moderation is the key.
7. Choose water - water is the best way to keep yourself hydrated. Drinks such as soft drink, cordial, energy drinks and fruit juice are high in sugar and not necessary. Alcohol can be enjoyed in moderation, though do limit to no more than 2 standard drinks per night, and include 3 alcohol free nights weekly. It is true that red wine contains heart-healthy nutrients - but only if you limit to one glass! This is a prime example where just because some is good, does not mean more is better!!
8. Butt out - smoking is actually the biggest risk factor for heart disease; according to the Australian Heart Foundation, people who smoke are twice as likely to have a heart attack and three times more likely to have a stroke than those who do not! The Quitline is a great place for information and support to help you quit smoking.
Now that you are aware of the prevalence of heart disease in Australia, I hope you will join me by wearing red for women's heart health on Thursday June 11th. Get involved in fundraising events in your local area by checking out the Heart Foundation's Go Red For Women page, and most importantly, make a lifestyle change today to reduce your risk of heart disease.