Why it's never too late to look after your heart

Cardiologist shares healthy heart tips for older Australians

National News

Get walking to avoid the 'double whammy effect' and stay healthy.


A healthy heart, like a healthy body, starts with the basics. Here's how older Australians can look after their heart every day.

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is one of Australia's most common chronic diseases, affecting more than 4 million Australians.

Heart disease accounts for more than 1 in 4 deaths in Australia each year, with 83 per cent of hospitalisations for CVD occurring in those aged 55 years and over.

With the prevalence of CVD increasing with age, prioritising your heart health as you get older is critical says leading Sydney cardiologist Dr Jason Kaplan.

"There are several factors that can heighten the risk of developing CVD, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol and weight, with those considered overweight or obese at increased risk of developing CVD," said Dr Kaplan, a cardiac imaging specialist with GenesisCare in St Leonards.

Nearly two thirds of Australian adults are overweight or obese, with one in five aged over 55 years categorised as obese.


And yet less than one-in-five Australians aged over-65 currently meet the recommended physical activity guidelines.

"Being overweight can often have a double whammy effect, exacerbating other traditional risk factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels and diabetes control, while also directly increasing CVD risk."

He said physical activity, along with a balanced diet, can help reduce obesity at any age, in turn reducing the risk of developing CVD.

Dr Jason Kaplan.

Dr Jason Kaplan.

Dr Kaplan pointed to a recent study which demonstrated the important role cardiovascular fitness has to play in improving an individual's long-term survival and found it to be particularly beneficial for older patients and those with hypertension.

"However, while increased physical activity is beneficial for optimal heart health, regardless of weight, evidence suggests increasing physical activity alone may not be sufficient to counteract the detrimental effects of obesity."

He said striving for an optimal weight and healthy body mass index (BMI) should continue to remain a priority for all older Australians to ensure good heart health.

Other important points for heart health include being a non-smoker, lower alcohol consumption and maintaining normal blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

Here are Dr Kaplan's healthy heart tips for older Australians.

Get moving

Try to incorporate at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise on most days each week. These activities should increase your heart rate without making you breathless.

Examples include brisk walking (i.e. to the shops or walking your dog), swimming, cycling, water aerobics and housework such as vacuuming or gardening.

If you are new to exercise, start with just 10 minutes of physical activity a day and slowly build from there. Remember, you don't need to join a gym to exercise - try an online yoga class or go for a walk to a nearby park.

Eat a balanced diet

Eat a balanced diet of vegetables, fruit and wholegrains, include a variety of protein rich foods, choose unflavoured dairy products and healthy fats and oils, and add flavour to food using herbs and spices instead of salt.

Avoid highly processed food in your diet, such as baked sweets, chocolate, chips, lollies, and sugary drinks, as well as large amounts of meat, processed meat and higher quantities of saturated fats.

Eating patterns based on these foods have been shown to increase the incidence of heart failure.

Try to eat a healthy portion for each meal, made up of one-half vegetables, one quarter protein and one quarter carbohydrates.

Diets based around the Mediterranean diet style rich in plant-based foods and seafood have been shown to reduce the incidence of cardiovascular events.

Speak to your doctor 

For advice on maintaining good heart health and a healthy weight see your GP or health practitioner before making any major changes to your lifestyle through diet or exercise.

Also talk to your GP and make sure you have an up-to-date CVD health plan.

"Due to the constantly evolving COVID-19 situation, many people are delaying speaking to their healthcare professional for health checks and treatment. However, with one Australian having a heart attack every four minutes, timely diagnosis and management of CVD and its risk factors can be lifesaving." said Dr Kaplan.

For more information on heart health click HERE.

Personal walking plans

To encourage more Australians to get moving, the Heart Foundation has launched its Personal Walking Plans.

The push comes as new data shows Aussies are alarmingly complacent about exercise and heart health

A Heart Foundation survey of more than 7000 Australian adults, two in three (65 per cent) said they know that exercise can lower their risk of heart disease. Yet two-thirds of these people also said that they do not meet Australian physical activity guidelines (30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more days a week).

At the same time, 44 per cent said they have been told by their doctor that they need to be more active.

"Our research suggests that while many Australians know that movement is good for their hearts, and they have been advised by their doctor to be more active, they are not acting on this," said Heart Foundation Group chief executive, Adjunct Professor John Kelly.

The free, six-week Personal Walking Plans program give participants a walking plan tailored to their current activity levels, as identified during an easy, two-minute sign-up process.

Plans will be delivered via weekly emails and texts, which are designed not only to support and motivate participants, but also to deliver information about the many benefits of walking beyond fitness and heart health.

"This is a vital component of the Personal Walking Plans, because as our survey shows, simply understanding that physical activity is good for the heart does not equate to getting off the couch," Professor Kelly said.

"Walking for an average of 30 minutes a day can reduce your risk of not only heart disease, but also stroke, diabetes, dementia and some cancers. It can also help maintain healthy blood pressure, cholesterol and weight.

"That's why we often call walking a 'wonder drug'. If it were a medicine, we would all be taking it daily for longer, healthier, happier lives.

To get started with a free Heart Foundation Personal Walking Plan, visit walking.org.au