Question: what is the leading cause of death of women in Australia?
Most people say cancer, with breast cancer featuring heavily. However, only a handful of Aussies know that heart disease is the number one cause of death in Australian women. Women are three times as likely to die from heart disease than they are breast cancer.
Knowing this information is so important because it is the first step in our fight against heart disease. Knowledge is power and with that comes the power to make a change for the better. With this in mind, this June, the Heart Foundation has launched it's new annual campaign: Making the Invisible Visible. Instead of not knowing and losing the women we love, we are going to get the message out there and arm women with the knowledge necessary to fight this head on.
Heart disease is preventable. Depending on the things we do early in life, we can set ourselves up for a healthy heart or an appointment with a heart surgeon like me. As a heart surgeon, here are 10 tips that I follow to keep my heart healthy now and in the future.
1. Eat well
Have you heard the saying that you can't out run a bad diet? Well, this is so true for your heart. Nutrition science is constantly evolving as we learn more but I make sure to eat a diet filled with vegetables, fruit and good fats such as those from avocado. I also steer clear of sugar which is increasingly looking like the bad guy in cardiac disease, obesity and diabetes.
2. Get moving
Exercise has so many health benefits for your whole body including your heart. Aim to get moving for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. You don't need to be running marathons, just do something that you enjoy doing that gets your heart rate up and your breathing a little faster. As a general rule of thumb, some exercise is better than none, and more is better than some. And don't be sitting around between runs. Sedentary behaviour like sitting in an office chair is associated with higher risks related to heart disease.
3. Smoke? Stop that.
This one should be a no brainer, but with one in six women in Australia still smoking, we have a serious problem. Smoking is, without a doubt, the worst possible thing you can do for your health. Talk to your GP or your state Quitline and give up the durries for good.
4. Talk to your family
Shake that family tree and see what falls out. Our genetics are a big risk factor in the development of heart disease and while we can't change them, we can look after them. If, like me, you have heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes in your family, there are things you can do to reduce your risk.
5. Know your numbers
Again, knowledge is power. Every single woman should know her cholesterol, blood pressure and be checked for diabetes. If these precursor problems are detected early, they can be treated and help reduce the likelihood of developing heart disease. Pregnancy is another issue for women's hearts and if you had problems in pregnancy such as high blood pressure, preeclampsia or diabetes, you should be on your GP's radar.
6. Not feeling so well? Get help
Only 40 percent of women have traditional heart attack symptoms of crushing chest pain. We are much more likely to have vague upper abdominal pain, neck pain, tiredness, nausea or be short of breath. If you are worried either about your heart or your risk, see your doctor. You can even just have a heart health check. We can make a big difference to your health if we catch things early.
7. Manage your stress
While not a hard-and-fast risk factor for heart disease, constant stress and worry can push your blood pressure higher. I practice mindfulness as a stress reliever and swim to not only help my physical health but mental health too.
8. Measure your waist
A waist-hip ratio is a very simple tool that we can use to determine your risk of heart disease. Basically, if you carry weight around your middle, it's a sign it's around (and in) your internal organs, including your heart. All you need is a tape measure and this website has a handy calculator.
9. Know the signs and what to do
As I said above, women have different symptoms. Signs of a heart problem include:
- Pain in the chest, arm, jaw or back especially when you're exerting yourself
- Shortness of breath, especially when moving and especially if it's a new problem
- Palpitations that don't go away
If you have any of these, get yourself checked. I would also strongly recommend doing a first-aid course, including knowing CPR, because you just might save someone's life one day.
10. Spread the word
Knowledge is power, so let's spread the word and tell all the women in our lives that their hearts are precious and deserve looking after. As part of Making the Invisible Visible, I want everyone to tell three women they know to get their hearts checked.
For more information, visit the Heart Foundation at invisiblevisible.org.