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Why do I need to get my heart health tested?

Heart disease is the single biggest killer of Australians. But it can be prevented by understanding your risk factors. While there isn’t one single cause of heart disease, there are multiple types of risk factors that can significantly increase your chance of developing it. The greater number of risk factors you have, the higher your chance of having a heart attack or stroke.

 Unfortunately, there are some risk factors that can’t be changed. These can include your age and family history. However, there are many different factors that we do have the ability to control, which can significantly minimise your chance of developing heart disease.

 Three key risk factors that you should be regularly monitoring include your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar.

 The Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute Heart Health Check Tour aims to empower community members to take control of their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar by understanding their numbers.

What are these numbers and what do they mean?

BLOOD PRESSURE

The health of your heart and arteries and how much blood your heart pumps, determines your blood pressure (also known as hypertension). High blood pressure can strain your heart and speed up the process of heart disease.

 Your blood pressure readings contain two numbers. The higher number is your systolic blood pressure which measures the pressure as the heart contracts. The lower number (diastolic) measures the pressure in the artery as the heart relaxes.

What causes high blood pressure?

  • Family history
  • Intake of too much salty food
  • Alcohol intake
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Lack of exercise
  • Certain medications

How do I reduce my blood pressure?

  • Reduce salt intake
  • Reduce caffeine intake – maximum of 2-3 cups per day
  • De-stress – find time to relax, try meditation or yoga

CHOLESTEROL

Cholesterol is a form of fat that is found in the blood and all cells in the body. Cholesterol comes from the foods we eat (animal products – meats and diary) and from our own body (manufactured in the liver). Excess cholesterol can affect blood flow and is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

There are two main types of cholesterol:

 LDL (bad cholesterol): this type of cholesterol builds up in the walls of your arteries, making them hard and narrow which can increase the risk of a heart attack.

HDL (good cholesterol): this type picks up excess cholesterol and takes it back to the liver. 

What causes high cholesterol?

  • Unhealthy diet, particularly high in saturated fats, trans-fats and sugar
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Lack of exercise
  • Age – cholesterol starts to rise after the age of 20
  • Smoking
  • Family history

How do I reduce my cholesterol?

  • Increase exercise levels
  • Increase good fats in your diet – avocado, oily fish, nuts and seeds
  • Increase intake of soluble fibre – rolled oats, beans, lentils and quinoa
  • Eat a minimum of 5 servings of vegetables daily
  • Reduce saturated fats – animals fats and dairy
  • Reduce trans-fats intakes – cakes, pastries, deep fried food, fast food
  • Reduce alcohol intake 

BLOOD SUGAR

Glucose (also known as blood sugar) is a source of energy for all cells in the body and brain. The amount and type of carbohydrates and sugars you eat will affect your blood sugar levels. Excess sugar in the blood can cause damage to blood vessels and can be an indicator of diabetes risk.

Your blood sugar level is the amount of glucose present in your blood. Non-fasting blood sugar results will be affected by what you have eaten or had to drink within a 4 hour window of being checked.

What can cause high blood sugar?

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Family history
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Age – risk increases as you get older
  • Elevated stress levels

 How can I reduce my blood sugar?

  • Eliminate sweets and sugary foods
  • Swap white for brown/wholemeal bread, rice and pasta
  • Replace soft drinks, energy drinks and fruit juice with water
  • Limit fruit intake to a maximum of two pieces per day

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