Heart disease claims the second most lives of South Africans after Aids-related illnesses, says the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA (HSFSA). Following a public poll that forms part of pharmaceutical company Pharma Dynamics' Hug Your Heart campaign, the HSFSA found that 46 percent of South Africans participate in activities that put them at risk of heart disease. This includes smoking, drinking too much alcohol, overeating, consuming too many salty, sugary and greasy foods and living a sedentary lifestyle.
According to Pharma Dynamics spokesperson Nicole Jennings, the survey of 2000 is "telling of the nation's trivial attitude toward heart health". Usually, people are kicked into taking positive action for their health after someone they know suffers a heart attack or a stroke. "The reality is that 215 South Africans die every day from heart disease or stroke. While certain genetic risk factors for these conditions cannot be prevented, modifiable risk factors that relate to lifestyle account for the majority of heart disease, and a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent 80 percent of premature deaths from heart disease," she says.
These lifestyle risk factors can be mitigated by making changes in diet, alcohol consumption, stress management and exercise. According to the Hug Your Heart findings, drinking too much alcohol can lead to high blood pressure and heart failure. Jennings suggests aiming for at least 30 to 60 minutes of cardiovascular exercise a day to make a beneficial difference.
It is never too soon to start taking care of your heart health. According to the results of the survey, 21 percent of young adults are not "taking proactive steps to lower their blood pressure". The best way to do so is to change eating habits and cutting back on salt, while increasing regular exercise. Jennings says that most people only start worrying about their hearts in their 40s, but adds that this is almost too late. "Everyone can and should do something to help reduce their future risk of heart disease, even if you don't think you are at high risk. More women die prematurely from heart disease than of breast cancer, therefore it is vital that both men and women of any age lead healthy lifestyles." In the results of the survey, more female participants cited cases of high blood pressure than men, with 19 percent of women saying they are not taking active steps to improve their heart health.
As part of their Hug Your Heart campaign, Pharma Dynamics has also pledged to raise R100,000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA during the month of February. For every Facebook post that is shared using #hugyourheart, Pharma Dynamics will donate R5 to the HSFSA.