Nutrition and Exercise

What role does nutrition and exercise play in heart disease?

The very high rates of heart disease we see in Australia and the developed world today are linked to many aspects of our modern lifestyle. The human body was 'designed' many hundreds of thousands of years ago and was adapted to life then, where food was scarce, there were practically no refined foods, and there were no machines to help us.

Today many people have sedentary jobs and go to and from work in a car. There is a lot less physical exercise built in to people's daily routine. Packaged food also contains more sugar and more salt than in its natural form, and many fat and sugar rich 'treats', including sugary drinks, are readily available. With fruit and vegetables taking a back seat in many diets, fibre intake is also very low compared to previous generations.

Medical science has concluded that these aspects of a modern lifestyle are more likely to lead to heart disease.

Here are some guidelines on nutrition and exercise that will help you - and your heart - stay healthy...

Nutrition

The current guidelines recommend eating...

  • Oily fish (eg salmon, tuna, sardines, mackerel) as they contain omega 3 fatty acids which promote elasticity of blood vessels and thin the blood - try to eat oily fish at least twice a week
  • Certain vegetable oils (eg virgin olive oil), again especially if they contain omega 3 fatty acids
  • Fruit and vegetables - a source of folate and antioxidants and fibre
  • Wholegrain cereals - again a good source of fibre
  • Seeds and nuts - in small quantities

...and recommend avoiding or reducing consumption of...

  • Alcohol
  • Processed foods (including processed meats eg salami)
  • Red meat
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Fried food
  • Food high in salt
  • Food high in sugar

Exercise

Exercise does not have to be 'formalised' - it can be any form of physical activity, even if it just taking the stairs instead of the lift or escalator, parking slightly further away from your destination so you have to walk further, or going for a short walk every day. Aim also to walk a little faster than you might normally, aiming for around 4 km/hr.

Studies have shown that walking for at least half an hour every day at this speed reduces heart disease risk by 30%.

The current guidelines to maintaining good health and heart health are to do half an hour's exercise on at least 4 days every week, preferably on 6 days. This does not have to be strenuous, particularly if exercise has not been a part of your routine for a long time. Aim to exercise at a level where you can continue to hold a conversation, but only just.

It is also a good idea to build in some muscle strengthening exercise into your regime to work all the major muscle groups, ideally twice a week.

NOTE

If you have done very little or no exercise before and are over 40 years of age or currently have a heart condition, you should consult your doctor before starting any exercise regime.