Having a healthy heart is vital for our well-being. Although the various types of heart disease pose a significant challenge to the health of the population, there’s a lot that can be done either to prevent those diseases from developing or at least to minimise their effects.

So what can be done? Let’s find out.

The significance of heart health

The heart’s main function is to pump blood around the body. This provides the body’s systems with the oxygen and nutrients they need and removes waste products, two processes that are central to the maintenance of our health

The term ‘heart health’ usually refers to the functioning of the cardiovascular system (the heart, blood vessels and blood). This can be negatively affected by the following conditions:

  • Cardiovascular disease—the most common cardiovascular disease is coronary heart disease (or CHD). CHD is the result of atherosclerosis, a build-up of fatty substances in the coronary arteries that causes them to become narrowed or blocked. 
  • Arrhythmias—these are abnormal heart rhythms that result from faults in the heart’s electrical system. They cause the heartbeat to become too fast, too slow or irregular.
  • Heart failure—this is where the heart muscle is damaged and does not work properly.
  • Structural heart disease—these are conditions that affect the heart’s structure (its valves, walls, chambers or muscles).

Heart disease is usually caused by a combination of risk factors. You can find out your risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next five years by having a heart health check with your doctor. You can also find out ways of managing that risk.

Understanding heart-friendly behaviours 

These are actions that contribute to the health of the cardiovascular system, and adopting them is likely to mean focusing on the following aspects of your lifestyle:

Diet and nutrition

Maintaining a healthy weight reduces the risk of diabetes, high cholesterol, stroke and high blood pressure, all of which are risk factors for heart disease.

The Heart Foundation describes a heart-healthy diet as being one that includes vegetables, fruits and whole grains. Healthy sources of protein including fish, seafood, legumes, nuts and seeds are also recommended, as are smaller amounts of eggs and lean poultry (e.g. chicken breast).

You can find a range of recipes containing heart-healthy foods here.

Physical activity and exercise

The Australian Government’s Department of Health and Aged Care guidelines recommend that adults should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity such as brisk walking or cycling on most (preferably all) days of the week. It is also important to reduce and break up the time you spend sitting or lying down (except for when you’re sleeping).

You can find more information about workouts that boost heart health here.

Stress management

Stress can lead to behaviours such as smoking, being inactive, eating unhealthy food and excessive alcohol intake. These behaviours contribute to the development of conditions that increase heart disease risk, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. 

You can find out about reducing stress here.

Quitting smoking

Nicotine narrows your veins and arteries, which can damage your heart by forcing it to work faster and harder. It also slows down the supply of blood (and therefore oxygen) to your feet and hands. Carbon monoxide, which is produced when a person smokes a cigarette, deprives the heart of the oxygen it needs to pump blood around the body. Over time, the airways swell up and allow less air into the lungs.

According to the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, there are many benefits to quitting smoking for heart health:

  • In 12 months, your risk of heart disease is halved.
  • In 5 years, your risk of a stroke has dramatically decreased.
  • In 15 years, your risk of heart attack and stroke is almost the same as that of a person who has never smoked.

The Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care has resources to help you quit smoking. Call Quitline on 13 78 48 (13 QUIT) for support and advice.

Cutting down alcohol 

The National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) Australian guidelines suggest that to reduce the risk of harm from alcohol, adults should have no more than ten standard drinks a week and no more than four standard drinks on any one day.

You can find more information on the Australian guidelines for drinking alcohol here.

The role of sleep in heart health

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare and the Australian Government Department of Health and Aged Care, sleep plays a vital role in maintaining heart health. Getting too much or too little sleep is associated with an increased risk of several conditions, including cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke. 

You can find more information on the link between sleep and health here.

Having regular check-ups

Regular check-ups are particularly important as people may not be aware that they have risk factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol until they experience a serious episode such as heart attack or stroke.

The Heart Foundation recommends that all people aged 45–79 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples aged 30 years and above and people living with diabetes aged 35 years and above should have regular heart health checks.

Making lifestyle changes

With the right strategies and some persistence, you can integrate healthy habits into your lifestyle.

Helpful strategies include:

  • connecting emotionally with the changes you want to make
  • setting realistic goals
  • tracking your progress
  • staying motivated
  • have accountability structures.

Remember, change is a process and it takes time. Be patient with yourself.


As beneficial as adopting heart-friendly behaviours is, making healthy lifestyle changes is not always easy. This is where prevention programs such as Life! can help.

The Life! program is a type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke prevention program that helps you live a healthier lifestyle.

The Life! program gives you the resources and the knowledge to achieve a healthy lifestyle and lower your risk of heart disease. Our experienced health professionals will help you make small changes to your lifestyle so that you can achieve your health goals.

The Life! program is funded by the Victorian government and managed by Diabetes Victoria. You can check your eligibility for the program by taking a quick online test here.