The heart of the matter

Heart disease is the biggest cause of deaths worldwide. Yet how many of your goals for the year focused on improving your heart health?

You’d probably assume you’d know if you were having a heart attack. But the symptoms are not always so obvious. Here’s a reminder of when to raise the alarm:

  • chest pain or discomfort, which may also be felt in the arms, neck, jaw, stomach or back

  • a dull pain, ache or ‘heavy’ feeling in your chest

  • chest pain or discomfort which feels like indigestion but makes you feel generally unwell

  • feeling sick, sweaty, breathless, lightheaded, dizzy or generally unwell as well as pain or discomfort in your chest. (British Heart Foundation)

If you have any of the above symptoms or if anyone around you has, it’s important you call 000 immediately.

There are many risk factors for heart disease and most of them are modifiable. The non-modifiable risk factors (the ones you can’t do much about) include family history and ethnicity. But there are more risk factors that you can do something about; high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol , inactivity, being overweight, smoking and high stress levels.


Eating for heart health doesn’t mean cutting out all fats and never having desserts again. Here are the top things to include in your diet every day, and a few to cut back on.

Eat more of: fruit, vegetables, whole grains (oats, brown rice, quinoa, wholegrain or rye bread), good fats (found in oily fish, nuts and seeds, olive oil, avocadoes).

Eat less of: sugar and sugary foods and drinks, saturated fats (found in fried foods, red meat, full fat dairy products), salt and processed foods, refined carbohydrates (white bread, bagels, white pasta and white rice, cakes and biscuits, noodles).


Keeping active not only boosts heart health by improving fitness, but it also helps to reduce stress – another risk factor for heart disease. Try to balance cardiovascular exercise (like jogging, cycling, swimming, aerobics) with some strength training (either with weights or using your own body weight) and some flexibility and relaxation exercise (yoga or Pilates for example).

Written by Dr. Noel Duncan