Heart Health Blogs
The Biggest Causes of Heart Disease – and The Best Ways to Prevent It
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in Australia1 and around the world.2
While family history and advancing age are significant risk factors, other contributors to heart disease are often preventable.
Knowing practical ways you can reduce the biggest risks could help protect you and the ones you love.
Top Cardiologist tips for preventing heart disease
Quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, eating a well-balanced diet, and doing some form of exercise every day are all great ways to try and prevent heart disease (see more about heart disease risk factors below).
But changing behaviour and habits isn’t always easy, even when you know it’s the right thing to do.
One of the common mistakes many people make when trying to develop healthier habits is to do too much, too soon. Committing to seven days a week at the gym if you’ve never exercised could lead to injury rather than fitness. Small changes often lead to big impacts.
Cardiologist, Dr Daniel Cehic, suggests five simple habits that everyone could try and start at their own pace to improve your long term heart health:
- Be the designated driver – Social pressure to drink from friends and family can be hard to avoid. Take temptation away by volunteering to be the designated driver at your next get-together. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have a drink every now and then in moderation.
- Schedule exercise – Making a commitment in your diary to take a walk or have a swim can help to cement it as a non-negotiable task, like a dental appointment or work meeting. Make it even harder to skip by getting a friend or loved one to come along.
- Read your labels – Sodium, found in salt, is a high dietary risk when it comes to heart disease. Check the labels in the supermarket on any processed, canned or jar foods. The sodium content per 100g should not exceed 400mg, although less than 120mg is ideal.3
Non-processed foods are lower in sodium than processed foods:
Processed ham – 900-1,200mg per 100g (average)
Chicken breast – 74mg per 100g (average)
Broccoli – 33mg per 100g (average)
- Try plan out your meals for the week – Creating a weekday meal plan filled with fruit, veggies, wholegrains and lean protein will ensure you aren’t tempted by takeaway or fast food. And it keeps the weekends open if you want to indulge occasionally.
- Have a distraction strategy to help quit smoking – Quitting smoking can be tough, especially if you associate your ’smoko‘ with a particular time of day or activity. Instead of lighting up in between meetings or when taking a break from the gardening, plan to do something else. Making a cup of tea, calling a friend or loved one for a quick chat, or doing the daily Wordle are all simple ways to fill that time with something other than smoking.
Starting by choosing one simple thing to do a week can be much more achievable than trying to do everything at once ”
What are the main causes of heart disease?
Taking some simple steps to help prevent heart disease is a great start. But knowing what causes people to develop heart disease can also help keep you healthy. The main causes of heart disease are:
Age 4 – As your age increases so does your risk of developing health issues, including some types of heart disease. People 65 years and older are more likely to have a heart attack and develop coronary heart disease. One reason for this is that ageing causes the blood vessels around the heart, and the heart itself, to change. During a period of stress or while exercising, the heart cannot beat as quickly as it once did. Additionally, over the years there may be a gradual build-up of fatty deposits or plaque in the arteries, which can cause high blood pressure and impact heart performance.
Inherited conditions and family history – It is possible to inherit genes that cause heart disease, but additionally, lifestyle factors within a shared environment can be passed on between generations and increase the risk of developing poor heart health.5,6 These may include an environment of poor diet, smoking and alcohol use.
Diet – Poor diet is a major risk factor in the overall health of Australians, notably in the increased risk of heart disease. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare6 (AIHW) estimates that 62% of coronary heart disease is caused by dietary risk factors. These include diets that are low in wholegrains and fruit, and high in processed meats and sodium.
Weight – Being overweight or obese significantly increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.7 The blood vessels that carry blood to your heart can be compromised when excess weight causes a blockage. While excess weight is much more likely to cause damage to the heart, being underweight can also adversely impact your heart health. Underweight persons – those who have a body mass index (BMI) of less than 18.58 – are 20% more likely to develop heart disease than those with a healthy BMI.9
Smoking and drinking – In a similar way to excess weight, smoking can cause arteries to become clogged with build-up. According to the Australian Heart Foundation smokers are:
- Twice as likely to have a heart attack,
- Four times more likely to die of heart disease,
- Three times more likely to die from sudden cardiac death10
The link between alcohol and heart disease is related to higher weight and blood pressure. The Australian Alcohol and Drug Foundation suggests that while there is no ’safe‘ amount of alcohol, drinking alcohol will not necessarily lead to poor heart health. However, those who binge drink may have a 45% higher increased risk of developing coronary heart disease.
Sedentary lifestyle – An important part of keeping your heart healthy is being active and exercising regularly, especially as you age. In addition to helping to keep your weight healthy and your body and joints moving well, physical activity – whether it be a brisk walk, a swim at the local pool or a yoga class – has been found to have a positive overall effect on physical and mental health and helps to decrease the risks of developing conditions such as coronary heart disease.11
Talk to your GP about local and national resources that can help you improve your heart health and help prevent heart disease.
Learn More: The different types of heart diseases
Related Article: The importance of early investigation into your heart health
This information is of a general nature. If you are concerned about your heart health, discuss this with your local doctor.