Heart disease and type 2 diabetes are very real health risks for Australian adults. You can reduce your chance of developing heart disease and/or type 2 diabetes by making your diet healthier, getting active and quitting smoking. Small changes can go a long way – it’s never too early or too late to take steps towards healthier habits.

What is heart disease?

Heart disease is Australia’s leading cause of death. Heart disease includes a range of illnesses that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain or stroke.

There’s no single cause of heart disease, but there are risk factors that increase your chance of developing it. Lifestyle risk factors that can be controlled include diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol intake. Healthy habits can help reduce risk factors and maintain health. Visit the Heart Foundation for more information.

What is type 2 diabetes?

People with type 2 diabetes are unable to control healthy levels of glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood. High levels of blood glucose over a long time can lead to further health problems.

People over 40 are at a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, but it is becoming more common in younger age groups in Australia. People with type 2 diabetes are up to four times more likely to have a heart attack or stroke and often develop heart disease younger than people without diabetes. Visit Diabetes NSW for more information.

Like heart disease, people’s risk of developing type 2 diabetes can be reduced by eating a healthier diet, increasing their physical activity and establishing a healthy weight.

Healthy lifestyle changes

Learning to make healthier decisions about your diet, exercise, smoking and alcohol intake can make a big difference in helping to prevent and manage heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Eating well

Following Australian Dietary Guidelines and cooking healthy recipes for you and your family are good ways to reduce the risk of developing heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

Some tips to eat more healthily:

  • Enjoy a balanced diet that includes wholegrains, fibre, and healthy fats to give you the nutrition you need to protect your health. Use our Food Calculator to learn more about the food groups, how much we need and how often.
  • Aim to eat more plant foods such as vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruits, wholegrains, and seeds – they are loaded with nutrients needed to maintain a healthy heart.
  • Try to eat a wide variety of colourful vegetables at lunch and dinner to make sure you get your five serves of veggies a day.
  • A small handful of nuts a day may help to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Nuts provide healthy fats, fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Try to include more legumes in your diet such as lentils, chickpeas and beans as they are packed with plant protein, fibre and slow releasing carbohydrates which can help manage blood glucose.
  • Aim to include fish in your diet – either fresh, frozen or canned – for healthy omega 3 fats. Try tuna mixed with chickpeas for a double dose of heart healthy goodness.
  • Avoiding foods and/or drinks that are high in unhealthy saturated fats, salt and added sugars can help to reduce your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes. This includes limiting occasional foods such as cakes, muffins, biscuits, confectionery, chips, high fat deli meats, and sugar sweetened drinks.

Staying active

Doing regular physical activity can reduce your risk of developing heart disease or type 2 diabetes. Keeping active also helps to control heart disease and type 2 diabetes risk factors, including high blood pressure, higher cholesterol, high blood glucose and being above a healthy weight.

Did you know that even 30 minutes of exercise each day improves your overall health? Aim for at least 30 minutes of movement every day. Read our easy exercise tips to help you get started or check out these simple workouts that you can do at home.

If you’re not sure what type of physical activity is right for you and your condition, it’s always best to consult your GP.

Quit smoking

Smoking damages the blood vessels to your heart, brain and other parts of your body. It can lead to heart attack, stroke and even premature death. Quitting smoking can significantly improve the health of your heart. If you’d like help to quit smoking, visit the NSW Quitline or call 13 78 48.

Reduce alcohol

Heavy drinking or binge drinking can increase your chances of developing heart disease. Drinking a lot of alcohol over a long period of time can increase your heart rate, blood pressure, weaken your heart muscle and increase the level of cholesterol in your body. Find more information about limiting your alcohol intake or speak to your doctor. 

Seeking help and more information

If you think you’re at risk of developing heart disease or type 2 diabetes, speak to your GP about a chronic disease management plan or find an accredited practising dietitian near you.

If you’re living with heart disease or type 2 diabetes, it’s important to regularly consult your GP or health care team. If you need more information, visit the Heart Foundation, Diabetes Australia or HealthDirect. You can also access a personal health coach via Get Healthy Service.