Cardiologist Professor Jason Kovacic in his office

Heart Health Tips - 2023 Update

Three new heart health tips for 2023 that could save your life

10 January 2023

Australians are urged to get more sleep, swap regular salt for potassium-enriched salt, and consider undergoing a blood test for a new 'bad' cholesterol marker.

These three tips could help prevent people from developing heart disease - Australia's biggest killer - and are simple to adopt according to the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute’s Executive Director Professor Jason Kovacic.

Collage of a woman sleeping, table salt, and a person getting a blood test

Swap the salt

It’s time to ditch regular salt for potassium-enriched salt which is available from all Australian supermarkets. A 2022 study by the Sydney-based The George Institute for Global Health demonstrated a significant reduction in rates of stroke, heart attack, and death in people who replaced their regular table salt with a reduced-sodium, added-potassium 'salt substitute'. The main way it does this is by substituting the sodium in salt with potassium, which has a significant effect on reducing blood pressure.

It should be noted that products containing high potassium levels can be dangerous for people with kidney problems or for those that are on certain high blood pressure medications. So, people should speak to their GP before switching if they have any concerns.

Professor Kovacic, who is also a cardiologist at St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, says:

“This simple switch really could make a difference to our heart health. Whilst most of the salt we eat is already in the foods we buy, any change we can make at home to our everyday cooking could help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range. Given there is no discernible taste difference, this is one switch I’d urge everyone to adopt in 2023.”

Get a good night’s sleep

Increasing evidence is showing adults need at least seven to nine hours of sleep a night to keep their hearts healthy. The American Heart Association has just added healthy sleep as an essential tool for optimal cardiovascular health. The other Eight Life Essentials include not smoking, exercising and a healthy diet.

Professor Kovacic says: “The evidence is very clear – poor sleep health is linked to heart disease. A lack of sleep (less than seven hours), or too much sleep (more than nine hours for healthy adults), raises the risk of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.

"Unfortunately, sleep is something many of us don't prioritise and around a third of Australians aren't getting enough shuteye. It’s time for us to get back into the habit of getting that all important block of undisturbed sleep. It will make you feel more alert, and it can help prevent heart disease.”

Test for a new marker of 'bad' cholesterol

Most of us are aware of a bad type of cholesterol called LDL, but there is another type we should also have on our radar called Lipoprotein(a). As compared to LDL, Lipoprotein(a) - which is also called Lp(a) - is more associated with genetics rather than lifestyle choices.

Lp(a) is also now known to be a major cause of atherosclerosis – which is the hardening and narrowing of the arteries in the heart caused by a build-up of plaque and is the major cause of heart disease.

High levels of Lp(a) can be picked up in a simple blood test ordered by your GP and should be undertaken by anyone with a family history of heart disease or by anyone who has had heart disease or stroke at an earlier age than normal.

Current cholesterol testing does not include monitoring for high levels of Lp(a) despite evidence showing that people with raised levels are 2-4 times more likely to develop atherosclerosis.

“This is not a test everyone should be having but if you suspect heart disease runs in your family, or if you a male below 55 or woman below 60 with cardiovascular disease (heart attack, stroke, angina, stent or coronary bypass surgery), then this test can determine if Lp(a) might be part of the cause,” adds Professor Kovacic.

“There are exciting new therapies to lower Lp(a) that are in final phase clinical studies. While we wait for these new drugs, there are other steps you can take to reduce your risk and most importantly of all you will be more closely monitored."

Acknowledgement of Country

The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present.

Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute - The Home of Heart Research for 30 Years