Why vascular health is important

In Australia today, heart attacks, strokes and dementia are responsible for about one-in-four deaths*.

These risk factors for these health conditions are related. The good news is that we can do things that reduce the risk of all of them!

Blood flow is critical for the heart and brain. But changes in the blood can damage these organs.

For example, one-in-three Australian’s over 50 years old have hypertension (high blood pressure). Having too much pressure in the blood vessels of your heart and brain promote damage to the organs brain over time.

Similarly, obesity is associated with increased risk of heart attacks, dementia and stroke. 
People with a very large waist circumference tend to have a higher risk. Fat deposits around the waist increase chemicals that promote inflammation in the blood vessels of the heart and brain.

Smoking also promotes inflammation. This inflammation in conjunction with high blood pressure can combine to cause damage. High bad cholesterol levels are another factor that work with hypertension and inflammation to promote damage.

Similarly, having raised blood sugar levels in diabetes or pre-diabetes predicts more of these conditions. It is estimated that about 1.7 million Australians have been diagnosed with diabetes, and that another half of a million have undiagnosed diabetes.

The good news is that most people with high blood pressure, cholesterol, body fat, or raised blood sugar levels can take steps that address all these factors.

For example, most of us understand that exercise is good for us, but most of us could do with some reminding of how. Many people focus on exercise to lose weight.

But those people may struggle to get in a habit of exercising regularly if they do not see their weight drop. Exercise is unlikely to suddenly make you slimmer, but it can reduce your risk factors on any given day.
It is important to arm yourself with a few reasons to exercise other than weight loss. Exercise can also lead to long and short-term improvements in:
  1. Blood pressure: People with high blood pressure tend to get more reduction than those that have not.
  2. Cholesterol: Typically lowering your triglycerides and bad cholesterol while increasing you good cholesterol.
  3. Blood sugars: Your body can improve its sensitivity to insulin for up to 24 hours after exercise.
  4. Mood: Is improved short-term by increasing endorphins. Regular exercise can also help reduce depression and anxiety.
You do not have to exercise hard to get all these benefits. Exercising at a level you enjoy is important, especially if you struggle with motivation.

Exercise is unlikely to get you to your goal weight fast. But enjoying exercise and getting the broader benefits may help you get into regular exercise. And that is more likely to get you going in the right direction.

ABS 2019*.
 - Contributed by The ISLAND Project, Wicking Dementia Research and Education Centre
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