February is Heart Month and is a reminder of how heart disease still affects the lives of far too many people both in the number of deaths and the many ways it adversely affects our quality of life.
Raising awareness is a good start, but it doesn’t end there. According to the latest information from Statistics Canada, 29 per cent of all deaths in Canada are due to cardiovascular disease. In the U.S. alone, more than 17 million people died from cardiovascular diseases in 2008, and it kills more North Americans than cancer.
In recent years, cardiovascular risk in women has been increasing and has killed more women than breast cancer.
In Canada 45,000 cardiac arrests occur each year which works out to be one every 12 minutes, and since about 85 per cent of these arrests occur in homes and public places, the survival rate remains a dismal five per cent.
Heart disease also is very expensive to treat. Heart disease and stroke costs the Canadian economy more than $20.9 billion every year in physician services, hospital costs, lost wages and decreased productivity.
Cardiovascular disease and stroke hospitalizations have cost nearly $450 billion in North American health care expenses and lost productivity in 2010 alone.
It is so lamentable that these ailments are, except for genetics and age, under our complete control, yet many people fail to take action.
Making healthy choices, such as avoiding tobacco use and reducing consumption of sodium and trans-fat, controlling our weight, eating healthy food, getting regular exercise and reducing stress will all help. Each one of these is readily achievable just by understanding and appreciating the importance of the problem and applying ones-self to change. Even small lifestyle improvements can make a significant difference.
Many people aren’t keen to exercise because they are so out of shape they can’t see themselves taking part in activities where you sweat profusely or your body aches. However, you can get health and fitness benefits just by an activity as simple as walking. The harder you exercise, the greater the benefit, but even light to moderate intensity will produce results. A Canadian study found that one group who logged 10,000 daily steps, but weren’t required to walk fast, improved aerobic fitness and reduce systolic blood pressure albeit at about half the amount as another group who exercised at a moderate level (so that they were breathing deeply but not out of breath). However, both programs burned as many calories, reduced fasting blood glucose and cholesterol.
A great first step would be for all sedentary people to get a daily walk of 30 to 60 minutes at any pace, even relaxed or slow walking. Once you are comfortable with that try to build on that foundation by going at a little faster pace. Pretend that you are late for an appointment or going somewhere in a hurry and this will increase your heart rate even more, producing further benefits. One step at a time means taking the first step.
There is a perception that kids feel indestructible, and that feeling makes them do reckless and dangerous things sometimes, but I don’t think that feeling necessarily ends when we reach adulthood.
Ultimately it comes down to that same perception that kids have – “it can’t happen to me.” Others can have heart attacks and strokes, but not me – I’ll escape this fate even though I might have many predisposing factors. More serious consideration to this problem needs to be taken by everyone.
Preventing heart disease through sensible, easily controlled means, such as increasing our exercise levels and watching our diets is also a way all of us can help reduce the economic burden on our health care system.