The news in last week’s Sunday Telegraph that heart disease remains our country’s most prolific serial killer, claiming as many as 51 lives every single day, hit me hard, as I’m sure it did millions of other Australians whose lives have been touched by this terrible disease.
It was 2013 when I got the call from my best mate Dennis’ phone. But it wasn’t my friend on the other line. It was his father.
There was silence for a few moments, like he was struggling to put it into words, before he told me Dennis had passed away after suffering a heart attack.
He was only in his early 40s. A bit overweight, sure, but nothing too serious. We’d even joked about it.
I had challenged him on New Year’s Eve with a bet, promising to take him out to dinner at his favourite restaurant if he was able to lose a little weight. He promised me he’d get stuck into it in February, after returning from a planned family holiday.
That phone call came in January and six years later, nothing has changed. The numbers released by the Heart Foundation equal 18,500 lives lost every year. Or one person every half-hour.
Adam MacDougall shares his tips about heart health. Picture: Julian Andrews
It’s even worse news if you live in Queensland, our official heart disease capital, home to eight of the country’s top 20 heart attack hot spots.
And what’s worse is almost every one of those deaths is easily preventable.
The problem is so serious the Heart Foundation has just released a two-minute quiz on its website which allows you to gauge the age of your heart.
Just type in your age, height and a few extra details, and the site will issue your heart a number of years. If that number is higher than your actual age, it’s time to make some changes.
The good news is, it’s not even that difficult. In fact, the changes required can slot so easily into your everyday life that you might not even notice.
The most common causes of heart disease are an unhealthy diet, a lack of exercise, being overweight or being a smoker, but there are other, harder to spot (and even easier to correct) warning signs, too.
… FOR HEART HEALTH
Don’t skip breakfast
Research supports the old saying eat breakfast like a king with people who enjoy breakfast being on average 5cm smaller around their waistlines. As skipping breakfast will only have you reaching for the nearest sugary snack by midmorning.
But that doesn’t mean you should be opting for nasty cereals, juices or pastries. Instead opt for a balanced breakfast full of protein and fibre which is proven to help protect your heart, and to help you to lose weight.
Sleep it off
There are few easier ways to improve your health than by simply sleeping, but studies have shown again and again that poor sleep habits lead to higher rates of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attack, diabetes and depression. So embrace your sleep rituals and get a full night of healthy slumber.
It’s not just the stress that puts, well, stress on your ticker, but the ways we try to relieve it. So next time you feel under the pump, don’t reach for a sugary snack, or worse, a cigarette, and instead take a fast walk around the block, learn some simple breathing exercises or invest in a punching bag or stress ball.
Keep it moving
I know, I know; you just don’t have time for the gym. But that doesn’t mean you can’t build exercise into your daily routine. Try parking further away from the shops or work. Make a point of ditching the elevator, or get of the bus or train one stop or station further from home. You can’t tell me you don’t have time for that.
Most important of all, remember that heart disease is both detectable and treatable. So make an appointment with your GP, and ask them to make a follow-up appointment every single year. The sooner you discover a problem, the easier it will be to fix.
*** this article first appeared in The Sunday Telegraph 25 February 2019.