Heart Healthy Round Table



In this episode, we gather around the Heart Healthy round table, to talk about what you need to do to keep your heart strong. Find out how exercise and nutrition can decrease your risk of heart disease and early death. We also cover why it’s so important to see a dietitian or exercise physiologist, for the right advice surrounding heart disease.

Check out this episode!


Background on cardiovascular disease

  • 43000 deaths from cardiovascular disease per year in Australia.
  • Cardiovascular disease kills one Australian every 12 minutes.
  • Heart disease is a term for many conditions including heart attack, coronary disease, stroke and heart failure.


What are the factors that contribute to keeping a healthy heart?

  • Modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease include: exercise habits, good nutrition, good sleep, stress management, minimal alcohol and smoking.
  • Non-modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease include: gender, genetic, age.


Exercise for a healthy heart

  • Research shows the more exercise you engage in the better. Also shows that long periods of inactivity correlated with higher incidences of cardiovascular disease.
  • Even if you engage in regular physical activity but you’re seated for long periods of time you’re still a high risk of cardiovascular disease.
  • Exercise should be spaced throughout the day. Look at how long you’re inactive in one period of time. Being up and about frequently rather than exercising in one session and then sitting all day benefits heart health. The more you get up during the day and move around the better it is for your heart health.
  • Standing still on the spot is almost just as bad (especially for your back) as sitting on the spot- so get up and MOVE your body e.g. pacing or stretching.
  • A lower grade of activity throughout the whole day contributes more to heart health than sporadic one-off high intensity activity here and there.


Nutrition for a healthy heart

  • The importance of nutrition should be on balance and fat intake for optimal heart health.
  • Poor nutrition in general is not good for heart health. High amounts of saturated fat without balance of healthy fat (olive oil, avocado, nuts), too much food in general (leading to obesity which is a risk factor for heart disease) and refined carbohydrates, processed food, excess sugar, salt and alcohol are all nutrition factors negatively impacting on heart health.
  • Olive oil: high smoke point- can be used in cooking contrary to popular belief! New research has found that those who added extra virgin olive oil and nuts had a 30% reduction in cardiovascular disease risk after 5 years.
  • Study found that for people who already had cardiovascular risk factors, including monounsaturated fats in a slightly increased amount could be a primary prevention for cardiovascular disease. Effect of the profile of olive oil and nuts (high in monounsaturated fats) reduces cardiovascular risk factors. Research has found that diets high in monounsaturated fats are low in saturated fat in general; healthier fats are replacing saturated fats in diet (saturated fats have no benefits to heart health).
  • Mediterranean diet which is high in monounsaturated fat (from olive oil and nuts) is also high in fish (rich in polyunsaturated fats which is high in anti-inflammatory omega 3 which lower homocysteine levels). High homocysteine levels seen in cardiovascular disease and omega 3 helps to bring these levels down.
  • Fish also high in protein- increases satiety so you don’t eat as much which helps keep your weight down. Fish coming from Australia is usually safer; mercury found in deep-sea fish, so our fish isn’t too high in it. Just be careful with the frequency of eating fish when pregnant for mercury.
  • Tinned sardines is cheap and a great source of omega 3!


Healthy heart questions;

  • Strategies to reduce sitting time

-Rely less on technology; get up when you can and visit other people’s desks instead of sending emails or making phone calls. Make excuses to get up from your desk more.

-Use a fit ball at your desk, as you’ll move around more on it. Get a standing desk at work. Introduce the idea of walking meetings with colleagues.

-Stand up and walk around when you get a phone call.

-For people studying: set an alarm while you’re studying- when it goes off (e.g. every hour) get up and move around! Having exercise breaks during studying helps clear your head and study more effectively!

  • People are saying butter and fat is now good for us? Does that mean we should eat more of it?

Too much of anything is never good for us; it’s all about moderation! There are no reductions in cardiovascular disease risk associated with saturated fat. We can’t eat copious amounts of saturated fat- it’s an energy dense molecule so eating too much of it can lead to weight gain. Replacing saturated fat with unsaturated fatty acids (poly- and monounsaturated: fatty fish, nuts, seeds, avocado, olive oil) shown to increase attractiveness of lipid profile in body- we need a certain amount of fat in blood. Want to make sure you have a higher portion of good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol) which is like pacman- goes around in your blood to eat up the LDL cholesterol (bad or lethal). Increasing the amount of polyunsaturated builds HDL and decreases LDL levels. If you have a genetic predisposition to cardiovascular disease then this is really important. Dietary guidelines allow approximately 30% of energy from fat- why make it up with fat that’s not going to benefit your health (saturated); why not make it up with fat that will benefit your body?

-Saturated fat may cause insulin resistance that can lead to diabetes emerging research shows.


What behaviours/attributes can put people at risk of heart disease?

  • Non-exercise and being sedentary for long periods of time can increase cardiovascular disease risk!
  • Benefits of exercise (aerobic and incidental): decreased heart rate at rest, decreased blood pressure at rest.
  • Smoking, alcohol consumption and stress are also risk factors for heart disease. Meditation, yoga and walking can assist in stress management. Keep things in perspective and prioritise things instead of taking on too many things at one time.
  • Engaging in yoyo dieting (large amounts of exercise or dieting and losing large amounts of weight in a short period of time (and regaining it)) is another heart disease risk factor. Slow and steady weight loss or weight maintenance is more beneficial. Very taxing on physical AND mental health as you’re always striving for something that you’re not. Look at it in terms of being more content with yourself.


Healthy heart questions;

  • Specific types of exercise for heart health?

-Increasing any level of activity that you can, including incidental activity as well as walking. Swimming and cycling are high intensity and are beneficial. Any type of exercise will be better for your heart health than no exercise! An exercise physiologist can tailor individual advice.

  • Can someone exercise after having a heart attack?

-Often a period of not doing much of anything; just recovering in bed straight after the heart event. They often start with an inpatient period where they receive exercise therapy in the hospital by physio’s or exercise physiologists and then transition to outpatient setting over a 6-8 week period. Assuming 2 months after their rehab in hospital they should engage in physical activity but the intensity would need to be tailored to the individual.

  • Just getting older is a risk factor for heart disease; trying to stay healthy is the best thing you can do. Certain things to be aware of: women post-menopausal make sure you get your heart health checked by a cardiologist; risk of heart attack is more prevalent at this time. For males the risk increases over the age of 55, especially for those who have a family history of the condition.
  • Many heart conditions affect youth; some of them congenital heart defects as well as issues related to exercise. For some exercise can be deadly!
  • Signs and symptoms an exerciser can look out for that indicates a heart event is occurring: symptoms will tell you to seek help, they may not necessarily indicate a heart attack. Things you should be looking out for all of the time: unusual weakness, dizziness, fainting, dehydration even when hydrating, pain on left side, difficulty breathing and tightness around the neck (this is a serious symptom!). Unless you’ve been diagnosed it’s hard to tell if you’re suffering from a heart defect.
  • If you’re measuring heart rate during exercise; if your heart rate doesn’t increase as your exercise intensity increases, something may be going wrong with your heart.
  • With congenital defects some people don’t need to push themselves hard to experience symptoms.
  • Heart attacks and stroked also common in body building world; hypotrophic-cardio-myopathy is a condition that may occur when someone just lifts weights and does no cardio. Just a portion of the heart is thickened; it has no symptoms until you have a heart attack.
  • If someone takes steroids, has a high training load and a heart defect they’re at high risk of a heart attack.
  • Most body builders end up having heart attacks if they’re really into it later on it life. Die early death (around 60 years).
  • If you’re into bodybuilding make sure you do cardio as well so you get a well-rounded adaptation of the heart.


Marfan Syndrome

  • Is a a genetic condition that affects the heart, can cause sudden death in soccer and basketball players.
  • Inheritable connective tissue condition that affects elastic fibres of heart.
  • People with this condition tend to be tall with large arm span; perfect physiology to be soccer or basketball player and places them at high risk due to the high intensity of these sports. That’s why there’ such a high prevalence of sudden death in elite athletes in these sports.
  • Symptoms: None. You would only know you had it if you experienced unrelated heart symptoms or had a genetic test.


EPO doping and heart health 

  • Heart attacks and strokes are common in the elite cycling world due to blood doping.
  • EPO is a glycoprotein (occurs naturally in body) that leads to the production of red blood cells, which contain haemoglobin, which carries oxygen to working muscles and gets rid of carbon dioxide to lungs. Increases haematocrit- the density of red blood cells. Makes blood thicker.
  • Dangerous if blood is thick and participating in long endurance cycling events and starting to get dehydrated or when you’re dehydrated at night because your arteries become clogged and end up having a heart attack!
  • Quite prevalent (e.g. Lance Armstrong)- 3 injections/week usually used for people with anaemia but now being used in cycling to last longer and go faster on the bike.
  • Can get the same increases in haematocrit from living or sleeping in high altitude or in an altitude chamber- body has to adapt to lower available oxygen concentration. Olympic athletes do this- not counted as drug doping.


Another risk factor for heart disease: depression, social isolation and lack of support. Make sure you’re surrounded by family and friends and don’t isolate yourself. If you do feel depressed make sure you seek help!

Research has shown that when people come from an abusive background they’re more prone to disease risk because their body reacts to stressors in life more than people who didn’t grow up in these conditions. They tend to get sicker as their immunity is lowered due to increased stress hormones such as cortisol.

Meditation increases your willpower! Makes you take control of your thoughts and this is what influences willpower.


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