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Whatever you do in February, do it with heart. February is Heart Research Month, aka. RedFeb, which aims to raise awareness of the important research that goes into preventing, diagnosing and treating heart disease. Included in February is the “Day of Hearts” which happens to land on February 14th – and you thought Valentines day was about your loved ones!

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), Coronary Heart Disease is the leading underlying cause of death in Australia. They also estimate that over 1.2 million (5.6%) of Australians over the age of 18 had at least one condition related to the heart or vascular systems during the 2017-18 survey year.

The good news: You can immediately reduce your risk! Read on to learn my TOP 5 TIPS for reducing your risk of Cardiovascular Disease.

1: Move, move and move again.

Exercising and elevating your heart rate is one of the cheapest yet most effective ways to reduce your risk of heart disease. It addresses a number of risk factors including blood pressure, body weight, cholesterol and stress.

Australia’s Physical Activity & Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Adults recommends the following:

  • Doing any physical activity is better than doing none. If you currently do no physical activity, start by doing some, and gradually build up to the recommended amount.
  • Be active on most, preferably all, days every week.Accumulate 150 to 300 minutes (2 ½ to 5 hours) of moderate intensity physical activity or 75 to 150 minutes (1 ¼ to 2 ½ hours) of vigorous intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both moderate and vigorous activities, each week.
  • Do muscle strengthening activities on at least 2 days each week.

For a full list of the guidelines by age group, click here.

Exercise can be varied and takes many forms. Some will love joining a gym class whereas others will thrive on taking their dog for a walk and stopping to do some exercises along the way. The most effective exercise is the one that you do consistently and leaves you feeling sweaty, but good. Let Heart Research Month be the catalyst in making movement a priority …if it’s not already! If you’re looking for some online workouts that you can do anywhere, check out The ION Way or check out our training options.

2: Nutrition

Based on the 2017 Global Burden of Disease Study1 completed by the institute for health metrics and evaluation, poor diet is one of the leading risk factors for heart disease in Australia. This is due in part to the impact nutrition has on your blood pressure, weight, cholesterol and type 2 diabetes risk.

The Australian Heart Foundation recommends the following nutrition tips for reducing your risk of heart disease:

  1. Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and wholegrains.
  2. Include a variety of healthy, protein rich foods – including plant-based proteins. Eggs, poultry and seafood are all excellent options, however it is recommended that red meat be limited to 1-3 meals per week as it has an association with an increased risk of heart disease2.
  3. Choose unflavoured milk, yoghurt and cheese.
  4. Include healthy oils and fats.
    • Avocado
    • Nuts & seeds
    • Choose olive oil when cooking.
  5. Replace salt with herbs and spices to flavour your foods: On average Australians eat nearly double the recommended amount of salt. Too much sodium can cause an increase in blood pressure, further increasing your risk of heart disease. Try swapping sodium for herbs and spices to increase the flavour profile of your meals.

According to the AIHW, up to 35% of the average Australian diet is made up of highly processed foods3 such as baked goods, sweets, chocolate and takeaway food. These foods can be a nice treat and while completely cutting them out is unnecessary, make sure you limit your intake and choose the wholefoods option where possible.

If you’re looking for some more guidelines, have a read through:

3: Lifestyle

In a busy post-2020 life, stress and anxiety are likely to be present from time to time. Managing your lifestyle and stress levels can go a long way to not only improving your quality and enjoyment of life, but it can also reduce your risk of heart disease. Stress can raise your blood pressure, can be a trigger to heart attack and common coping strategies such as overeating, smoking and drinking can also raise your risk.

Small and simple steps can go a long way managing stress. The below are some ways you can help reduce stress. Click the links for more information:

To read more on stress, you can find the Black Dog Institute’s factsheet here.

4: Sleep

We all know that sleep deprivation can make us irritable, fatigued, can impair performance, increase risk of injury, and have a negative impact on our mental health. What many may not know, is that according to the US Heart Foundation, chronic sleep deprivation has also been shown to be a risk factor for heart disease, Alzheimer’s and stroke.

Sleep hygiene is a method of identifying and improving your sleep habits. Think of it as your very own training program for sleep.

My top 3 tips for improving your sleep immediately are:

  1. Routine. Go to bed and wake at the same time each day. Even if you don’t sleep immediately when your head hits the pillow, these habits will help stabilise your circadian rhythm and improve your quality of rest.
  2. Avoid screen time and mental stimulation before bed.
  3. Keep your room as dark as possible.

For more tips on how to easily improve your sleep, click here.

Sam Rooney, Accredited Exercise Physiologist

1: Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation 2018, Global Burden of Disease Study 2017 (GBD 2017) Results, Global Burden of Disease Collaborative Network, Seattle, Available from http://ghdx.healthdata.org/gbdresults-tool Collins CE, Burrows TL, Rollo ME.

2: Animal sourced proteins (meat and poultry) and Cardiovascular Health: an evidence check brokered by the Sax Institute for the National Heart Foundation of Australia. 2019. Santos JA, Webster J, Land MA, Flood V, Chalmers J, Woodward M, Neal B, Petersen KS.

3: Nutrition across the life stages. Cat. no. PHE 227. Canberra: AIHW

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