Heart Week 2024

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This Heart Week, hear from experts A/Prof Amanda Vincent and A/Prof Lisa Moran about how they are working with women to better understand heart health to improve women’s health outcomes.

A/Prof Amanda Vincent, Head of Early Menopause Research at MCHRI and Lead on the Ask Heart Health Project. Amanda is also an endocrinologist at Monash Health. 

What is the Ask Heart Health project & who is funding it?

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in Australian women and your risk of heart disease increases with the transition to menopause. The Ask Heart Health project: A co-designed heart health resource for midlife women promoting healthy lifestyle and reducing heart disease risk. It aims to create evidence-based resources and tools specifically for women at midlife to promote heart health, including screening, risk perception, knowledge and lifestyle change. This research is supported by a Women’s Health Research, Translation and Impact Network (WHRTN) Co-production grant. A co-production grant is a new model of funding where equal numbers of researchers and consumers work in partnership as the research team.

What will the resource look like?

Based on MCHRI’s successful Ask PCOS and Ask Early Menopause Apps, Ask Heart Health will be a comprehensive App, co-designed specifically with and for midlife women. It will feature practical tools aimed at promoting healthy lifestyles and reducing the risk of heart disease. These tools include informative factsheets, list of questions for discussion with healthcare providers, risk screening tools, story videos, healthy lifestyle program and links to other helpful resources. Using co-design means that this App will be able to meet midlife women’s unique needs and preferences. The lifestyle component will be adapted from our previous highly effective healthy lifestyle program for younger women.

How will the resource help women?

ASK Heart Health aims to help midlife women to take proactive steps towards better heart health by increasing understanding, helping risk perception and supporting behaviour change through personalized strategies for heart disease prevention.

When will it be available?

This project is currently in the initial phase of determining midlife women’s knowledge, needs, barriers, and behavioural drivers for heart disease prevention. The next stage of the project, involves co-designing content and user-testing/adaptation and is scheduled to commence in September 2024. The project completion date is set for mid-2025 with Ask Heart Health anticipated to be available in the second half of 2025. Keep up to date with the project’s progress here.

 A/Prof Lisa Moran leads the Healthy Lifestyle Research Program at MCHRI, Monash University. She is a research dietitian, accredited practicing dietitian and clinical dietitian at Monash Health and an Affiliate staff member of the Robinson Research Institute at the University of Adelaide.

How is the Healthy Lifestyle Research Program working to improve women’s heart health?

We work with women and health professionals to co-design lifestyle management programs to reduce women’s risk of heart disease.

Reproductive-aged women experience conditions that more than double the risk of long-term heart disease and can also increase heart disease risk in their children. These include polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and conditions women can experience during pregnancy such as gestational diabetes, high blood pressure during pregnancy, fetal growth restriction and spontaneous preterm birth. These each affect 10-15% of women and are associated with a doubling of heart disease later in life. Women can also present with heart disease much earlier, even within 10 years after giving birth in some cases. Given these conditions affect more than a third of women, this presents an opportunity to identify and support them in screening and early intervention to prevent heart disease later in life.

What lifestyle interventions/programs are you currently developing?

With funding from the Heart Foundation, I am investigating cardiovascular risk in women during and following pregnancy. We are working on ways to identify the women at high risk of pregnancy complications that could contribute to a higher risk of heart disease after pregnancy. This will allow us to work with these women earlier during and following pregnancy to optimise their lifestyle. With funding from the Australian Government and Diabetes Australia, we’re also working with women with PCOS to improve the design of digital health and community based lifestyle programs.

How does lifestyle affect your heart health?

Many of the key risk factors for heart disease are called behavioural risk factors which means that we can improve them ourselves. By targeting these behaviours, at least 80% of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke could be avoided. Managing these risk factors can also manage heart disease if you already have it.

These include:

  • Stopping smoking
  • Reducing alcohol intake
  • Improving diet – By following a heart-healthy eating pattern which means choosing foods that are naturally low in saturated and trans fats, rich in unsaturated fats, and rich in wholegrains, fibre, and antioxidants and avoiding added salt and sugar
  • Improving exercise – Aiming for at least 30 minutes moderate exercise most days of the week, doing some muscle strengthening exercises twice a break and reducing or breaking up your sitting time
  • Managing our weight (by preventing weight gain, losing weight or maintaining a reduced weight)

Are there any particular foods that are good for your heart health and foods that should be avoided?

The main nutrition recommendations to prevent heart disease are to follow a heart-healthy eating pattern. This means choosing foods that are naturally low in saturated and trans fats, rich in unsaturated fats, and rich in wholegrains, fibre, and antioxidants (such as vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, nuts and seeds, fish and seafood and smaller amounts of healthy protein) and avoiding added salt and sugar. Other Heart Foundation recommendations for healthy diet to prevent heart disease include limiting processed meats, limiting lean red meat to 1-3 times/week, choosing regular or reduced fat unflavoured milk, cheese and yoghurt; replace saturated fats with unsaturated fats, limiting trans fats and aiming to increase omega-3 intake by having 2-3 serves of fish per week. Read more from the Heart Foundation.

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Heart Week 2024

This Heart Week, hear from experts A/Prof Amanda Vincent and A/Prof Lisa Moran about how they are working with women to better understand heart health to improve women’s health outcomes.

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