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Aussies dangerously complacent on exercise and heart health

Aussies dangerously complacent on exercise and hea
Photo: Aussies dangerously complacent on exercise and heart health
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Australia, claiming the lives of 50 people every day. That’s one death every 29 minutes. And for every minute that ticks by in this country, a person is hospitalised for cardiovascular disease (CVD). But despite these alarming statistics, there’s a lax attitude towards physical inactivity – a significant risk factor for a disease that’s largely preventable. So, why are Aussies so complacent about exercise and heart health?

In a Heart Foundation survey of more than 7,000 Australian adults, two in three (65%) said they know that exercise can lower their risk of heart disease, the nation’s single leading cause of death.

Yet, two-thirds of these people said that they do not meet Australian physical activity guidelines, which is 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more days a week. And 44% said their doctor had told them that they need to be more active.
Adjunct Professor John Kelly, Heart Foundation Group CEO, says Australians are not proactive about their physical activity despite the warnings.

“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.

“Overall, around one in two Australians aged 18 to 64 – that’s almost eight million people – are not active enough for good heart health. This is extremely concerning given physical inactivity is a key risk factor for heart disease, which takes 50 Australian lives each day, or one every 29 minutes,” says Professor Kelly.

Benjamin Garth, exercise physiologist and Heart Foundation ambassador, says physical inactivity is multifactorial, with advances in technology and medical breakthroughs contributing to sedentary behaviour in Australia.

“I believe recent technological advances have increased sedentary behaviour. We travel by foot or bike less due to public transport infrastructure. Many of our active manual handling jobs have been replaced by automated machinery, and sedentary jobs are more prevalent.

“Medication breakthroughs have also helped manage many risk factors to heart-related illness such high blood pressure and high cholesterol, which could reduce the perceived value of exercise on one’s health.”

While the prevalence of cardiovascular disease has declined by 80 per cent since the 1980s due to research into risk factors, medications and interventions, there’s still work to be done in promoting heart health.

“I believe the tide is turning, and the value of exercise is increasing with the latest research continuing to reinforce the benefits of exercise for almost all common chronic conditions, especially heart-related illness,” says Mr Garth.

It’s an attitude that must continue to improve if Australians want to enjoy quality of life as our population ages.

“I believe that reduced quality of life is the greatest personal consequence towards having a lax attitude towards heart health.

“Those who have a heart-related illness report having poorer quality of life than those who do not. People who suffer from a heart-related illness have an increased risk of having comorbidities which can further reduce their quality of life and mortality rates,” says Mr Garth.

To encourage more Australians to get moving, the Heart Foundation has launched its Personal Walking Plans – a free, six-week walking program tailored to participants current activity levels.

Plans are delivered via weekly emails and texts to encourage Australians to be more active and to promote the 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

“Over this six-week journey with us, participants will learn about some of the lesser-known benefits of regular walking, like unwinding at the end of a stressful day; exploring their neighbourhood; becoming stronger and more flexible, and improving their mood,” says Professor Kelly.

Walking also has other incredible health benefits, adds Professor Kelly.

“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.

“By highlighting the unique and holistic benefits of walking, we are confident of recruiting an enthusiastic new generation to our Heart Foundation Walking family, while also continuing our mission to save Australian lives from heart disease.”

Risk factors for heart-related illness

Heart disease is largely preventable, and we can modify many of the risk factors (including smoking, unhealthy diet, inactivity, overweight and obesity and alcohol) ourselves, explains Mr Garth. So, what are the risk factors, and what can we do to help positively manage these?

Smoking

Chemicals in cigarettes have been shown to increase inflammation of the blood vessels, leading to and increasing the likelihood of heart-related illness. Smoking can also increase the likelihood of plaque formation in blood vessels, leading to narrowing and stiffening.

Luckily, in Australia, we have many positive programs which can assist people who smoke to quit. Research shows within a year of quitting, the risk of developing a heart-related illness drops dramatically!

Unhealthy diet

An unhealthy diet can lead to many complications, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity, which can increase the likelihood of developing a heart-related illness.

A diet prescribed by a health professional such as a dietitian can help mitigate the risk of developing a heart-related illness throughout all stages of life.

Inactivity

Meeting the National Physical Activity Guidelines (NPAG) is essential to reduce risk factors associated with heart-related illness and other chronic conditions such as T2DM, cancer, dementia and mental health conditions.

Unfortunately, 80 per cent of Australians fail to reach the daily physical activity guidelines.

Overweight/obesity

Two-thirds of Australians with heart disease are overweight or obese. Being overweight increases key biological risk factors of heart-related illness such as hypertension, dyslipidaemia and T2DM.

BMI and waist circumference are easy ways to identify overweight, obesity and excessive weight around the abdominal region. Aim for a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 and waist measurement of less than 80cm for women and 95cm for men.

Alcohol Intake

Excessive alcohol intake increases the risk of developing a heart-related illness and risk factors such as hypertension, dyslipidaemia and obesity. The Heart Foundation recommends limiting alcohol intake to no more than four standard drinks per day and less than ten standard drinks per week.

As a largely preventable chronic disease, we must change our attitude towards chronic disease management and prevention, says Mr Garth.

“Continued funding of healthcare infrastructure is imperative to prevent and manage risk factors that could lead to heart-related illness.

“I urge anyone who has or is unsure if they have any of the above risk factors to see their general practitioner.

“Australia has thousands of qualified healthcare practitioners who can help manage and prevent these risk factors and improve long-term quality of life and reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions.”

Find out more about the Heart Foundation Personal Walking Plan by visiting walking.org.au. You can also discover your risk of heart attack or stroke by using the Heart Age Calculator.

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Haley Williams

Haley Williams has a Bachelor of Communication in Journalism and over a decade of experience in the media, marketing and communications industries.

She is a widely published journalist with a particular interest in writing magazine features on parenting, health, fitness, nutrition and education.

Before becoming a freelance journalist, Haley worked as a writer for NeoLife (a worldwide nutrition company), News Limited and APN News & Media.

Haley also has extensive experience as an SEO Content Writer and Digital Marketing Strategist.