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Despite heart disease death rates decreasing dramatically in the last 10 years, it remains the leading cause of death in Australia. Heart disease can also lead to chronic health problems that require ongoing or life-long care.

90% of Australians have at least one risk factor for heart disease. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing it.

The good news? Many incidences of heart disease are preventable. That’s because the risk factors related to many heart disease conditions are related to lifestyle choices, such as diet and physical activity.

So, what is heart disease?

Heart disease is an umbrella term for a range of conditions that affect the structure and function of the heart muscle. It includes:

  • Coronary heart disease (CHD)
  • Heart failure
  • Valve disease
  • Arrhythmias (rhythm disorders)


Risk factors of heart disease

There is no single cause for any one heart condition, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing one.

The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to develop heart disease. More than two-thirds or Australian adults have three or more risk factors for heart disease. Yet many people don’t know they’re at risk.

Preventing heart disease starts with knowing your risk factors and making positive lifestyle changes to lower your risk.

Understanding your risks

Risk factors for heart disease fall into two categories including lifestyle risk factors that can be controlled and uncontrollable risk factors.

Lifestyle Risk Factors

  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Physical inactivity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Unhealthy weight
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • High blood sugar

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

  • Family history of heart disease
  • Increased age
  • Gender: Men are at higher risk of heart disease. A woman’s risk of heart disease increases after menopause, due partly to changes in cholesterol, blood pressure and metabolism.
  • Ethnic background

The good news is that for most risk factors, you can do something about them! You have the power to significantly lower your risk of heart disease by making changes to reduce the impact of lifestyle risk factors.

How exercise can help reduce your risk of heart disease

Physical inactivity is a lifestyle risk factor that you can control. Therefore, doing regular physical activity automatically reduces your risk of developing heart disease. Keeping active also helps to control common heart disease risk factors, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood sugar
  • Weight
  • Stress

This means by making 1 change, you aren’t just eliminating the 1 risk factor (inactivity), you are also impacting multiple other lifestyle risk factors.

So, how much exercise?

Current adult physical activity guidelines recommend accumulating at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both. The best way to achieve this is to accumulate volume throughout the week, rather than all in one session and then not again for another week.

To optimise the benefits of exercise for your heart health, include moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening exercises (such as resistance or weights) on at least 2 days per week for at least 30mins. Your heart is a muscle and needs resistance training just like any other muscle in your body.

We also suggest completing flexibility or mobility exercises on at least 2-3 days per week. This can be prior to your cardio or resistance session to stretch muscles to reduce tightness, normally holding for about 10-30 seconds. You should aim to stretch all of the major muscle groups and this can be done via static or dynamic stretching.

If you’re looking for more guidance on how being physically active can reduce your risk of Heart Disease, an Accredited Exercise Physiologist is a health professional qualified to prescribe individualised exercise programs that will consider any conditions or symptoms that you may have.