Heart health - know your numbers

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02 April 2019

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From how much exercise you need to how much salt you should eat, we’ve done some number crunching to help you stay on top of your heart health. 

There are several risk factors for cardiovascular disease and, while some major ones such as age and family history can’t be changed, many are lifestyle-related, which is good news - you have the power to keep your risk low. This is vital given that heart disease is the single biggest killer of Australians. Taking good care of yourself as well as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly and eating well, is one of the best ways to prevent the disease. To help you understand the important factors impacting your heart health, here are some important numbers to keep in mind. 

(BMI of) 25

When it comes to measuring your body mass index (BMI), 25 is considered the cut-off point for a healthy weight for your height. To calculate your BMI, divide your weight (in kilograms) by the square of your height (in metres). “Patients with a BMI of 25 should start to take additional care of their wellbeing,” says Spanish cardiologist Professor José Luis Zamorano a member of the Best Doctors network of specialists. “People who have a BMI of 30 or more are officially categorised as obese,” he adds. The Australian Government’s Department of Health classifies a BMI of 18.5-24.9 as ‘healthy’, while anything below or above that as ‘unhealthy’.

However, BMI isn’t a single measure of health and there’s debate about its validity. A 2016 study published in the International Journal of Obesity found 45 per cent of people with a BMI of 25 or more weren’t ‘unhealthy’ according to other markers including blood pressure and cholesterol, while 30 per cent of subjects with a ‘normal’ BMI were considered ‘unhealthy’ in light of those other tests.

That said, Dr Robert Shmerling, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, believes BMI is a “useful starting point for important conditions that become more likely when a person is overweight or obese.”

30 (minutes)

Half an hour is the minimum exercise time that should be done at a moderate intensity five to seven days a week. “Regular aerobic exercise is recommended,” says Professor Zamorano. Aerobic exercise is any physical activity that’s sustained, such as brisk walking, jogging or swimming.

8 & 14 (units)

“It’s recommended to restrict alcohol consumption to less than 14 units per week for men and less than eight units a week for women,” says Professor Zamorano. The limits are in place because alcohol increases triglycerides, the most common form of fat in the body.

One unit of alcohol is one standard drink, which equates to 10g alcohol, but not all drinks are ‘one standard drink’. For example, a 375ml can of mid-strength beer is one standard drink, while a 150ml average restaurant serving of red wine is 1.5 standard drinks. Find more detailed analysis here.

<5 (grams)

Watch how much sodium you eat - it’s linked to high blood pressure. “Excessive salt intake is directly contributed to developing severe hypertension,” explains Professor Zamorano. “Patients who are hypertensive are recommended to ingest less than five grams of sodium per day,” he adds. To give you an idea of what that looks like in everyday foods, one teaspoon of soy sauce has about 300mg of sodium, and a 35g serve of corn flakes with half a cup of skim milk has 240mg of sodium. When shopping, look for low-sodium products, those with 120mg or less of sodium per 100g serving.

To determine your blood pressure levels, see your GP. A normal reading is 120-129 over 80-84. Anything higher is categorised as ‘high normal’ followed by ‘grades 1-3 hypertension’.

80–94 (centimetres)

Measuring your waist is another indicator of health. “Excess waist circumference implies increase risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome,” says Professor Zamorano.  

Women and men with a waist circumference of 80cm and 94cm or more respectively have an increased risk of developing chronic disease, including diabetes, heart disease and even some cancers. If the numbers exceed 88cm and 102cm respectively, the risks are even greater.

About Best Doctors

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  1. https://www.heartfoundation.org.au/your-heart/know-your-risks/heart-attack-risk-factors
  2. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/body-mass-index-bmi-and-waist-circumference
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/ijo201617
  4. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/how-useful-is-the-body-mass-index-bmi-201603309339
  5. https://www.who.int/dietphysicalactivity/factsheet_adults/en/
  6. http://www.alcohol.gov.au/internet/alcohol/publishing.nsf/Content/drinksguide-cnt
  7. https://www.kikkoman.com.au/product/home-cooks-naturally-brewed-soy-sauce-150ml
  8. https://www.kelloggs.com.au/en_AU/products/corn-flakes.html#nutrition-modal
  9. https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/sites/default/files/content/Eating%20Well/efh_food_label_example_large.pdf
  10. http://healthyweight.health.gov.au/wps/portal/Home/get-started/are-you-a-healthy-weight/waist-circumference


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