Cardiovascular disease kills one Australian every 12 minutes and is one of the leading causes of death in our country. We all know that we need to look after our heart health, and yet many Australians don’t exercise enough. Being inactive greatly increases your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, so what’s stopping us from moving more?
Let’s take a look at what cardiovascular disease is and why you should start moving more for your heart!
What is Cardiovascular Disease?
Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is a term that covers heart, stroke, and blood vessel diseases. It’s a broad term that covers a lot of different conditions, but some of the more common include:
Heart Disease: Heart disease is the single leading cause of death in Australia, killing 51 people each and every day. It refers to any condition that affects the heart.
Heart Attack: A heart attack occurs when there’s a sudden complete blockage of an artery that supplies blood to an area of your heart. Each year, around 57,000 Australians suffer a heart attack.
Angina: Angina is temporary pain or discomfort that happens when your heart can’t get enough blood and oxygen.
Stroke: A stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, leading to the death of brain cells. Your brain needs blood to function, and lots of it, as it contains oxygen and important nutrients for your brain cells. There are two main types of strokes, both occurring when blood flow is interrupted or stops moving through an artery. Ischaemic strokes occur when an artery is blocked and haemorrhagic strokes occur when an artery bursts.
Coronary heart disease: Coronary heart disease happens when your coronary arteries get narrower and reduce the blood flow to the heart.
What causes cardiovascular disease?
CVD claimed the lives of 43,477 Australians in 2017, which equates to nearly 30% of all deaths. One in six Australians, or 4.2 million of us, are affected by this disease.
It’s also largely preventable.
Lifestyle risk factors, like being overweight or insufficiently active significantly increase your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Other risk factors include smoking and having high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Close to three-quarters (73%) of Australians aged 30 to 65 years report having at least one risk factor for heart disease.
So, how can you reduce your risk?
Exercise helps to prevent cardiovascular disease
Being physically active is one of the best ways to improve your heart health. Your heart is a muscle, and just like all your other muscles, it needs exercise to stay strong. Regular exercise also helps to keep arteries and other blood vessels flexible, which helps to maintain good blood flow. As a result, regular physical activity makes you less likely to have a heart attack or develop heart disease.
Exercising can also help to control other CVD risk factors. It can:
- Help to reduce high blood pressure
- Improve your cholesterol by increasing “good” and reducing “bad” cholesterol
- Help to manage weight and prevent obesity
As well as exercising more, you should also sit less. Limiting sedentary time or breaking up long periods of sitting can help to keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk of CVD. If you sit a lot at work, try to take regular breaks during the day. You can also have walking meetings and actively commute some or all of your way to the office. Every little bit counts.
Exercise for Management and Recovery
If you’re living with CVD or are recovering from a heart attack, the thought of exercising might be frightening. Many people worry that stressing their hearts will put them at increased risk of another episode or may worsen their condition.
The truth is that exercise is definitely beneficial, even for those who have already been diagnosed with CVD. It’s never too late to start and reap the benefits of being physically active. That said, it is super important to seek professional advice when exercising.
You should always start by getting medical clearance from your doctor before engaging in an exercise program. Your doctor will normally refer you to an allied health professional, like an exercise physiologist, to help manage your cardiac rehabilitation.
Some myths about exercise and your heart
There are a lot of myths out there about exercise and your heart. Many of these stop being from being active as they fear that it will put them at increased risk of heart problems. So, let’s bust some myths, shall we?
1. Exercise puts extra strain on your heart and increases your risk of heart disease.
False. Your heart is a muscle and it’s designed to work out (in fact, it loves it)! Just like the rest of the muscles in your body, exercise helps to make your heart stronger.
2. I shouldn’t exercise if I’ve previously had a heart attack.
False. When exercise is prescribed by a professional it is not only safe, but beneficial after a heart attack. It’s important to start slow and gradually increase exercise intensity. Be sure to chat to your doctor and consult an expert before getting started.
3. I shouldn’t exercise if I have high blood pressure.
False. Many think that because exercise constricts your blood vessels, it raises your blood pressure. Whilst this may be true during the workout, exercise can actually help you to reduce your blood pressure in the long term. As above, it’s important to get expert advice before you start exercising if you’ve got high blood pressure.
4. Athletes have heart attacks, so exercise mustn’t do anything to prevent them.
False. Sure, some athletes have heart attacks during training or competition, but these are rare and it doesn’t mean that exercise causes heart attacks. Research overwhelmingly supports the fact that exercise will reduce your risk of a heart attack and reduce your risk of premature death from CVD. As with anything, there are some exceptions to the rule… but don’t let that stop you!
5. Heart disease runs in my family so exercise won’t help me.
False. Some people are genetically predisposed to have an increased risk of heart disease. But that’s all it is, an increased risk. Family history does not guarantee you will get heart disease and staying active will certainly help to reduce your risk.
Getting the right advice
If you’re at risk of or have been recently diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, then getting active is one of the best things you can do. But the right advice is crucial.
An exercise physiologist is specially trained to understand the complexities around exercising with CVD and can help to prescribe exercises that are safe and tailored to your individual needs. Services provided by Accredited Exercise Physiologists are claimable under compensable schemes like Medicare or may be eligible for rebates with your private health insurance.
There’s over 5,000 Accredited Exercise Physiologists around Australia. To find one near you, talk to your GP or click here to search by postcode.
For more information and resources on cardiovascular disease visit the Heart Foundation’s website.