“It’s important for anyone over 45, or any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 30, to have regular heart-health checks.”—Laura Engelhardt, Community Nurse, Australian Unity.
- Frequent trips to the GP for health checks are vital for people with cardiac conditions.
- In 2020–21 an estimated 571,000 Australians aged 18 and over had one or more conditions related to heart, stroke or vascular disease.
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet can provide protection against a range of heart disease factors, including your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
The Australian Heart Foundation’s national heart-health awareness week, held each May, offers a timely reminder to take care of this incredible organ that beats more than 100,000 times a day.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2020–21 an estimated 571,000 Australians aged 18 and over (2.9 per cent of the adult population) had one or more conditions related to heart, stroke or vascular disease. Despite the challenges, people living with heart conditions can live happy, productive lives.
“It’s important for anyone over 45, or any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over 30, to have regular heart-health checks,” says Laura Engelhardt, an Australian Unity Community Registered Nurse supporting customers in Western Sydney and surrounds.
She explains that while you may feel fine, some cardiac issues aren’t easily detected. Symptoms to watch out for include feeling dizzy when you stand up, chest pain, headaches, leg swelling, or pain in your neck, jaw, throat, upper belly or back.
Reducing your risk factors is paramount. While we can’t do much about genetic risks, we can control other factors like diet, exercise and stress.
Stay active and manage stress
Do you spend a lot of time on the couch watching TV? Get moving and your heart will thank you for it.
“It’s important to keep moving as much as you can,” Laura says, adding that quitting smoking, avoiding passive smoke and reducing your alcohol intake will also improve your heart health.
“Stand up during ad breaks. Go for a walk and get a glass of water. Check the letterbox often or pop out to your garden frequently,” Laura says.
She explains that Australian Unity Home Care Package customers could be eligible to use some of their funding towards health services from a physiotherapist, who can recommend an exercise plan.
This plan will be tailored to you and factor in any mobility or physical limitations, as well as align to any goals you wish to reach, such as joining a local walking group or getting out into your garden.
Managing stress is also vital when you have a heart condition. According to Heart Research Australia, factors that are commonly regarded as components of stress include depression, anxiety and panic disorder; social isolation and lack of quality social support; and life events such as bereavement, diagnosis of chronic illness or severe life changes. Understanding stress and how to manage it is essential to ensuring good mental health; Laura recommends meditation or other stress-relieving activities like puzzles and reading, or speaking to your GP for support.
Watch what you eat
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can provide protection against a range of heart disease factors, including your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Kate Pyke, an Accredited Practising Dietitian and health coach at Australian Unity, explains that salt (sodium) intake can influence your heart health. While we need salt to function, too much salt can cause high blood pressure – a major risk factor for heart disease.
“Much of the salt intake in our diet comes from added salt found in processed foods,” Kate says, adding that we should check food labels carefully. Generally, the sodium content should be less than 400 milligrams per 100 grams of food, but less than 120 milligrams per 100 grams is ideal.
Eating fresh vegetables and fruit and fewer processed foods (like chips, pies and deli meats) is a simple way to reduce your salt intake. Choosing salt-reduced sauces (like soy sauce and stock) and seasoning food with herbs and spices like pepper, garlic, ginger and vinegar also decrease salt intake without compromising on flavour.
If you’re looking for support in maintaining healthy eating habits, Australian Unity’s meal preparation and grocery shopping service could be a good option. You may be eligible to fund this support through your Home Care Package or alternatively pay for these privately and start and stop as needed. We can also set up regular delivery of pre-made nutritious meals to be sent directly to your door.
Keep an eye on cholesterol
When was the last time you had your cholesterol levels checked? There are two categories of cholesterol: LDL (‘bad’ cholesterol) and HDL (‘good’ cholesterol). Saturated-fat consumption is linked to increased LDL cholesterol but there are also genetic factors at play.
“Reducing your saturated-fat intake is a good first step,” Kate says, suggesting cutting back on processed foods like pastries, biscuits, fatty meats and deep-fried foods; eating plenty of soluble fibre (like oats, fruit, vegetables, chia seeds and psyllium husk); and increasing your HDL cholesterol with healthy fats like avocado, oily fish and nuts.
Laura says frequent trips to the GP for health checks are vital for people with cardiac conditions.
“Having regular blood pressure checks – with a GP, nurse, pharmacist or even doing it yourself on a machine at home – will alert you when something has changed,” she says, adding that Australian Unity’s in-home nursing service can also assist with blood pressure monitoring as part of your care plan.
In-home nurses can likewise carry out regular wellbeing visits to check customers’ vital signs, including heart rate and oxygen saturations, and undertake annual assessments for level 3 and 4 Home Care Package customers.
“We are early detectors of risk factors and provide support and education related to heart health and lifestyle changes that can reduce the risk of heart disease,” Laura explains. “We monitor and manage co-morbidities such as obesity to help reduce the risk of those developing into heart disease. We also provide referrals to physiotherapists who can support customers to increase their physical activity by rehabilitation and exercise, which contribute to reducing the risk of heart disease.”
Wearing a health bracelet or personal alarm device could be something wise to consider, particularly if you have an existing cardiac condition, and such items could be funded through a Home Care Package.
Laura says it’s also important to remember that you’re not alone. “We’ve got a beautiful team of registered community nurses providing support, education and services from the comfort of your own home. Care workers are also there for your support and safety; it is a team effort,” she says.
Whether you have an existing health condition or want to focus on preventative measures, we may be able to support you with additional services in your home. Chat to us today.
Information provided in this article is of a general nature. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest. Interviewee names and titles were accurate at the time of writing.