Putting a heart check on your retirement to do list

Doctor Anna Lewis.

By Tania Phillips

 Now you have time to your self it’s time to have a heart check according to Heart Foundation Queensland Heart Health manager Doctor Anna Lewis.

Brisbane-based Doctor Lewis said retirement is the perfect time to finally take some time to really consider your health – though in an ideal world the Heart Foundation recommends starting a little earlier.

“What we say is when people get to the age of 45 – it’s not exact – but when they get to 45 we recommend that people go and see their doctor to have a heart health check and that’s because as we get older risk of heart disease increases,” Dr Lewis explained.

“However, we do recommend that people are aware of their risk of heart condition at any age but particularly as people get older we recommend people see their doctor for a heart health check.

“When I say 45 that is for non-indigenous people for our First Nation people we recommend that when people reach the age of thirty for a heart health check.”

She said there were a number of things that the Doctor will check for as part of the heart health check.

“Some of the things the Doctor will ask them about or they will measure, is whether they have high blood pressure, whether they have high cholesterol or diabetes – they’re some of the medical conditions that can increase risk of heart disease,” she said.

“They’ll also ask them about their lifestyle – so they’ll want to know whether they’re doing any physical activity, what their diet is like, whether they’re smoking, how much alcohol they’re taking in regularly and they’ll also consider whether they may have a mental health condition.

“So it’s all of those lifestyle factors that can increase people’s risk of heart disease but like I said people’s risk of heart disease increases so they’ll also consider their age.”

She said gender also plays a part in heart risk.

“Unfortunately our male counterparts are more likely to get heart disease and they’ll also consider people’s ethnicity – people’s ethnic background,” Dr Lewis said.

Putting all of these factors together the GP will access whether someone is at risk of heart disease as well as measuring if they already have heart condition.

“It is really important that people go and have the heart health check and talk to their doctor but there are a number of things we can do,” she said.

“We can’t change our age, gender or ethnicity clearly and there are those clinical conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes – we may not be able to change if we have them.

“But there is a number of things can do. We recommend that people are physically active and that they do at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week. So that’s going for a good brisk walk. People can do vigorous activity and they only have to do 75 minutes a week. We recommend that people eat a good balanced diet.

“On our website we have heart healthy eating principals where we recommend what people do – usually that’s eating more wholegrains, more fruit and vegetables, low fat and healthy proteins, limiting their salt intake and drinking water – essentially eating a good balanced diet. On our website – rather than telling people what they should be eating we try and help people so we’ve got a large number of recipes to help people put our healthy eating principals in to practice. They don’t have to think about what they’re eating they can just pick our recipes and by eating that food they’ll be eating a good balanced diet.

“We recommend that people limit alcohol intake, we now say in Australia that its no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than four in any one day. We recommend that people try to stop smoking if they are smokers – or don’t take it up.”

But it’s not just physical health that contributes to a healthy heart according to Doctor Lewis.

“We do suggest that people talk to their health professionals – their doctor, about their mental health,” she explained.

“We know that good mental health can also reduce risk of heart disease.

“The other risk factor that is important for people to control is their bodyweight – and obviously through having a healthy diet and increasing physical activity people can help to manage their body weight but that’s another risk factor for heart disease.

“Now that you’re not working all the time take some time to listen to your body.

“If people have some time – some retirees are very busy I realise that – it’s good – good to be busy, it’s good for your mental health to have social connection but if it’s a time in your life to think about your health and wellbeing it’s important to think about these risk factors. In fact, by doing those things people will reduce their risks, not only of heart disease but of a number of other things and generally make themselves feel better. The good news is that by working on the risk factors for heart disease, people will generally feel better in their general frame of mind both physically and mentally anyway.”

Doctor Lewis also stressed the importance of talking to the Doctor before taking any new strenuous exercise regimes.

“It is important to think about what they want to do and then if there is any concerns, talk to their doctor about what exercise or behaviors might be important for them to do and if they need any support in that for example if they do have high blood pressure to talk to their doctor first before they take on any sort of extreme exercise.”

One of the most important things that the Heart Foundation stresses is knowing the warning signs of a heart attack.

“If anyone is concerned we recommend that they call triple 0 straight away, but the main warning signs of a heart attack are going to be if people are experiencing chest pains, pressure or heaviness in their chest, pain down their arm, there can be some other symptoms like jaw pains or neck pain, nausea or dizziness that some women experience they don’t always have the typical symptoms,” she said.


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