Healthy heart

Healthy heart

Valentine’s Day sends a lot of hearts a flutter, but DOROTHY BORDEOS says it’s also a good time to check how healthy yours is.

Your heart may be bursting at the seams from all the romancing on Valentine’s Day – but just how healthy is it? Take a look at your waistline because it’s a good indicator. If it’s small and flat, you can pop another one of those Lindt balls in your mouth. But if it’s big and round, it’s probably wise to skip the chocolates this year.

Cardiovascular disease covers all diseases and conditions that affect the heart and blood vessels and it’s the biggest cause of death in Australia. Despite all the advances in medicine, it’s also the most expensive health condition to have. So, it’s important to know how to tell if your heart is healthy.

Here are a few things to keep an eye on:

Blood Pressure (BP)
GOAL: Below 120 (Systolic)/80 (Diastolic)

Your blood pressure is an indication of how hard your heart is working. The systolic (upper number) is the amount of pressure that your heart is generating when it contracts. The diastolic (lower number) is the pressure in the arteries between contractions. Having a reading over 120 over 80 increases your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Weight and Body Mass Index (BMI)
GOAL: Generally between 18.5 and 25.
For Asians 23.5 is the trigger point of increased risk and 27.5 for high risk.

The BMI is calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by the square of your height in metres (kg/m2). Carrying too much weight forces your heart to work much harder and hence raises blood pressure. When it comes to weight we use the BMI as an indication of how much weight you are carrying against your height. Generally, a value over 25 indicates that you are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. But, there is some research that indicates that Asian people are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and have higher levels of body fat at lower BMI values. Currently, the agreed trigger point for Asians is 23.5 where anything over that represents an increased risk.

The BMI, however, cannot differentiate between muscle and fat or where fat is distributed so it is not an accurate indicator of potential risk of cardiovascular disease when used in isolation for muscular or athletic individuals; pregnant women; or the elderly.

Waist Circumference
Female: Increased risk >= 80cm, Greatly increased risk >= 88cm
Male: Increased risk >= 94cm, Greatly increased risk >= 102cm

Your waist measurement shows how much fat you carry on the torso and is a predictor of the risk of high blood pressure. The World Health Organisation states that using waist measurement with the BMI can accurately assess the risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Combining BMI and waist measurement to assess obesity and the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease – general population

Classification BMI
Trigger Points
Asian Population

Waist circumference and risk of co-morbidities
Men: 94-102 cm
Women: 80–88 cm
Men: More than 102cm
Women: More than 88 cm
Underweight <18.5
- -
Healthy weight 18.5 – 24.9 23.5 - Increased
Overweight 25 – 29.9 27.5 Increased High
Obesity 30+
High Very High
Source: National Institute of Health and Excellence, 2006

So as you can see, all three factors are related. When your waist measurement increases, then the amount of fat surrounding your organs, your blood pressure, weight and BMI all increase too. This isn’t just for old people either. As a personal trainer, I come across a wide range of people and some of my 20-something clients have come to me with a stern warning from their GP that if they don’t do something about losing weight then they’re more likely to get diabetes or cardiovascular disease.

To ensure that you’ll be around for many more Valentine’s Days, look after your heart. Be mindful of what you eat and try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity physical activity every day. Not realistic? Ok, try on most days of the week then, at least.

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The Heart Foundation ( has plenty of healthy eating ideas for your heart.

Key facts about cardiovascular disease in Australia

Cardiovascular Disease in Australia: A Snapshot, 2004-05

Cardiovascular disease

Australia’s health 2008 (AIHW)

Appropriate body-mass index for Asian populations and its implications for policy and intervention strategies

Source of table

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