Keep your heart healthy this Heart Week

Each year Heart Week encourages us to have important conversations about heart health. It is also a good reminder that we all need to take action to take care of our hearts. After all, we only have one and it has a very important job to do.

Your heart is a vital organ (actually it is a muscle) that pumps blood all-around your body, carrying oxygen and nourishment that you need to be healthy.

The system that transports blood around our bodies is known as the circulatory system and along with our heart, it is made up of blood vessels, arteries and veins. Sometimes our arteries and veins can become stiff and/or develop plaque which makes it hard for blood to flow freely through our heart and around our body. If this happens our heart needs to pump harder, which might raise our blood pressure and/or heart rate; over time restricted blood flow to your heart can cause heart disease and/or lead to a heart episode.

It’s important to note, a heart episode can include angina, a heart attack or a cardiac arrest that happens suddenly; a heart episode is not always related to heart disease.

Risk factors

There is no one thing that causes heart disease, but there are risk factors that contribute to your chances of developing heart disease or experiencing a heart episode. Some risk factors are non-modifiable, meaning you can’t do anything to change them. Non-modifiable risk factors include things such as gender, age, race or family history.

Other risk factors however are modifiable, meaning they are things you can change. Modifiable risk factors include things like having high blood pressure, high cholesterol or being overweight. The best way to reduce your modifiable risk is to make healthy lifestyle choices.

There are positive steps we can all take to help make our hearts healthier and stronger, regardless of our age or gender. Even if you have heart disease or have suffered a heart condition in the past, it’s not too late to make positive lifestyle changes such as not smoking, limiting alcohol and eating a balanced diet, while incorporating exercise into your daily routine. It is recommended that you speak to your doctor or a health professional before commencing an exercise regime if you have pre-existing health issues or are new to exercise.

Get support to keep your heart healthy

As you get older your risk for heart disease or suffering a heart episode increases. You can reduce this risk by getting regular check-ups with your GP to determine your level of risk. DVA provides eligible veterans with a one-off or annual health check. The Veterans’ Health Check is a comprehensive health assessment done by your GP. It provides an opportunity to access early intervention care and appropriate referrals when you need them. More information about the Veteran Health Check, including on eligibility, can be found on the DVA website.

Heart disease is a long-term chronic condition that impacts your heart and circulatory system and is associated with the build-up of plaque and clogging of your arteries. DVA offers access to on-going care for eligible veteran Gold Card holders with heart disease through the Coordinated Veterans’ Care program.

DVA also provides eligible veterans access to participate in the Heart Health Program, which has been beating strong for the past 23 years. The Heart Health Program is a free, year-long, national program that helps veterans to prevent heart disease or a heart episode by incorporating health education, exercise and balanced nutrition into their daily lives.