6 Steps to Cutting your Risk of Heart Disease

General Medical

Tammy George

man clutching his hand on his chest and over his heart

Heart disease is the single biggest killer in Australia. But most risk factors for heart disease are lifestyle based. Knowing the risks and making changes in your daily life can reduce your chance of developing heart disease and suffering a heart attack.

Risk Factors

The following is a list of risks and measures you can take to significantly reduce the risks.

Lack of Exercise

The Heart Foundation recommends we aim to do 2.5 to 5 hours of moderate intensity exercise or 1.25 to 2.5 hours of physical activity each week. Physical activity helps control risk factors for heart disease such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and being overweight.

Check out the Be Active Every Day brochure for more information about increasing the amount of physical activity you do.


Smoking kills 15,000 Australians per year and nearly 40% of these are due to cardiovascular disease. Smoking causes fatty deposits called plaque to build up inside the coronary arteries reducing blood flow to the heart. A blood clot can form in a narrowed part of a coronary artery and when it suddenly stops the blood flow, a heart attack can result.

Poor Diet

Obesity and a poor diet are leading causes of heart disease; The majority of Australians should reduce the amount of saturated fat in their diet as they increase blood cholesterol, particularly the bad (LDL) cholesterol.

Saturated fat is found in red meat, chicken, biscuits, pastries, cheese and other dairy products. The Heart Foundation recommends that 7% of our energy intake be in the form of saturated fats instead of the current 12% that the average Australian consumes.

Avoid eating packaged foods that have ‘hydrogenated oils’ or ‘partially hydrogenated vegetable oils’ listed on the label and eat less bought biscuits, pastries and cakes. Limit takeaway meals and trim any visible fat from meat and chicken.

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Being Overweight

Being overweight is a risk factor for heart disease. You can learn if you are in a healthy weight range through your Body Mass Index (BMI), a calculation based on dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared.  Use the Heart Foundation’s BMI calculator to see if you are in a healthy weight range. The BMI doesn’t take into account your body composition so if you are muscular and fit you may have a high BMI because muscle weighs more than fat.

A good indicator of heart health is waist circumference. Men are considered overweight if their waist measures more than 94 cm and women are considered overweight if their waist is more than 80 cm. Metabolic syndrome can occur with a combination of fat around the abdomen, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and triglycerides. The cluster of conditions increases heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

High Stress levels

You are at greater risk of heart disease if you are under constant high levels of stress. Some people also deal with stress in unhealthy ways such as drinking alcohol or smoking. Find the means to cope with stress that is healthy such as physical activity and meditation.

Studies also show that acute stress causes reduced blood flow to the heart, irregular heartbeats and an increased risk of blood clotting which can trigger cardiovascular disease.

Poor Mental Health

The World Heart Federation reported that an expert group in Australia had identified a link between heart disease and depression, social isolation and a lack of social support. Try to stay connected with family and friends and seek professional help if you feel depressed.

Regular blood and health checks

An annual blood test will be able to check on conditions that can have a detrimental impact on your heart’s health.

Blood pressure – If your blood pressure is high, you are at risk of ischemic heart disease where the heart muscle doesn’t get enough blood usually as a result of hardening of the arteries.

Diabetes – A higher than normal glucose level may indicate you have pre-diabetes and are at greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Diabetes Australia evidence shows 58% of people with pre-diabetes can avoid type 2 diabetes by improving their diet and exercise. A heart attack can be a complication of diabetes.

Cholesterol – From the age of 18, you should have your cholesterol checked at least every five years. If there is a family history or other risk factors, your doctor may recommend more regular testing.

If a blood test reveals that you have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes or diabetes your GP may recommend you make lifestyle changes such as an improved diet and more exercise. Your GP may also prescribe medications.

Help with Lifestyle Changes

Take steps to cut your risk of heart disease through HIF’s Healthy Lifestyle Cover which allows you to claim on weight management programs, gym memberships, exercise physiologist appointments, health assessments and quit smoking programs.

  • Benefits are not available where the service is eligible for a Medicare rebate  
  • A two month waiting period applies for Healthy Lifestyle benefits

Benefits are not payable on online program purchases, with the exception of Michelle Bridges 12 WBT and Susie Burrell’s Shape Me.

Tammy George

Please note: Tammy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.

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