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Love your heart, or it may cost you your life

Love your heart, or it may cost you your life

By Jenny Meyer

Wellington Hospital cardiac rehabilitation nurse Paul Peacock

The message about heart disease is not getting through to New Zealanders.

More and more of us are being diagnosed with cardiac conditions because people are not taking enough responsibility for their health, reports JENNY MEYER.

Campaigns to encourage Kiwis to drop their alarming rate of heart disease face an extra barrier this year – the biggest rise in food prices in a couple of decades.

“It’s easier and often cheaper to buy high fat, high salt and high sugar foods, than healthy foods like fruit and vegetables,” says Obesity Action Coalition director Leigh Sturgiss.

The Statistics New Zealand food price index for the year to August confirms that healthy food is getting more expensive.

Food prices rose 10.6% in the year to August, 2008, the largest annual increase since the year to May 1990.

The fruit and vegetables subgroup rose 19.1%. The most significant upward contribution came from higher prices for lettuce (up 145.3%), says Government Statistician Geoff Bascand.

Ministry of Health figures released recently in the Portrait of Health document hint that heart disease is also a poverty issue.
Men and women living in the poorest New Zealand communities were found to be twice as likely to have ischaemic heart disease as those who lived in the wealthiest areas.

Leigh Sturgiss says inequity in healthy food choices between different socio-economic communities is a worry: “People should have access to healthy foods regardless of their income.”

The Heart Foundation says every year in New Zealand about 11,300 people die from cardiovascular disease.

According to the foundation, one in 20 adults has been diagnosed with coronary heart disease: that’s 161,000 adults, and includes 118,500 with angina and 89,400 who have had a heart attack resulting in them being hospitalised.

Foundation adviser Professor Norman Sharpe warns against complacency about the silent conditions of high blood pressure and cholesterol.

“Cardiovascular disease (heart, stroke and blood vessel disease) is the leading cause of death in New Zealand, with approximately 40% of all deaths each year being cardiovascular–related, many of which are preventable.”
A simple heart health check from your GP can readily assess the level of risk and allow for any recommendations on lifestyle changes and medications, he says. These in many cases can offer large benefits in a relatively short period of time.

Otago University scientist Professor Vicky Cameron presented new data to a Wellington audience recently revealing a recently discovered gene hotspot for heart vulnerability that approximately 25% of the population carry.

Professor Cameron says it is exciting that such work could help doctors tailor heart medication more specifically for different patients.
“Nobody’s genes are perfect. It’s what we do with them that counts”.

Despite ongoing research and discoveries, the rate of heart disease continues to climb in New Zealand.

“We have increasing rates of heart disease partly due to lifestyle factors and an aging population.

“But we have a decrease in mortality. People with heart disease are less likely to die from it because of better treatments,” says Professor Cameron.

Wellington Hospital cardiac rehabilitation nurse Paul Peacock (pictured) says people can struggle to take ownership of their health following a heart attack, as it means changing lifestyle habits built up over years.

“They see the black and white pictures of the angiogram with an unblocked artery and think they are cured. But it is a disease. All we have done is alleviate the symptoms of the disease.”

The road to recovery encouraged by the cardiac clinic involves a visit while in hospital, an eight-week rehabilitation programme, and ongoing support group Well Heart.

Mr Peacock says the time investment of 16 hours over eight weeks in the rehabilitation programme pays off, with a 25% reduction of repeated heart events over five years.

Emotional support, education and exercise form the basis of the Well Heart groups, and lifestyle changes are more enduring if people feel supported and connected with others dealing with similar issues, he says.

Mr Peacock predicts that with obesity and type two diabetes rates rising, hospital services will be stretched and will struggle to cope with an aging population in poor cardiac health.

“So you need to be doing something yourself now. At the end of the day it is what you do makes the difference. We are just a small part of it.”

If you want to work to live, rather than live to work, stub out your cigarette, walk away from the computer, pick up the phone and call your doctor for a heart check-up.

If that is too hard to do, try taking the Heart Foundation risk assessment quiz,
The coloured tables take age, gender, race and family history (all things you can’t do much about) and match them with blood pressure, cholesterol, body weight and diabetes, variables that with effort can be managed responsibly.

Themes from cardiac rehabilitation pamphlets hint at 10 things you can do for your heart:

1. Stop smoking
2. Have a heart risk check up
3. Eat sensibly and use a smaller plate
4. Avoid too much alcohol
5. Walk more and find exercise you enjoy
6. Chill and learn to manage stress
7. Have a heart to heart chat with a friend
8. If you take heart medication keep taking it
9. Get enough sleep
10. Enjoy life

Maybe planting some lettuces in the vegetable garden might also be a good idea to ease stress at the supermarket checkout.
While admitting all of us are mortal, and have to die sometime, Mr Peacock says one of his patients summed it up when she described those who do not heed the warning of a heart attack, and avoided follow-up treatment and making lifestyle changes: “They are fools to themselves by not coming to rehab.”


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