A RECENT survey, which was conducted by SA’s leading cardiovascular medicine provider to determine how heart-aware South Africans are in the lead-up to Valentine’s Day, revealed that nearly a quarter described their relationship with their hearts as “on the rocks”. The public poll forms part of Pharma Dynamics’ Hug your Heart campaign, which it has launched this February in partnership with the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA (HSFSA), in an effort to create greater awareness about heart disease in South Africa – a condition which claims the second most lives, after HIV/Aids, in the country. Of the 2 000 respondents that participated in the poll, almost half (46%) pleaded guilty to activities that put them at risk of heart disease, which includes smoking and drinking too much alcohol, overeating, consuming too much salty, sugary and greasy foods, while living a sedentary lifestyle. Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics says the findings are telling of the nation’s trivial attitude toward heart-health. “Unfortunately, it usually takes someone we know to have a heart attack or stroke before we take our own heart-health seriously. The reality is that 215 South Africans die every day from heart disease or stroke – 18% of these deaths occur in women and 13% in men. “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% of premature deaths from heart disease. “With so many South Africans living with cardiovascular disease, it is imperative that people identify their individual risk factors,” she says. The survey also highlighted another worrying trend among young adults where 21% are not taking proactive steps to lower their blood pressure. Conversely, older adults seem to be the most proactive in taking care of their hearts with 88% changing their eating habits by cutting back on salt and 69% engaging in regular exercise.When it comes to men and women’s attitudes towards their hearts, men seem to take a slightly kinder view. Even though the majority of women who reportedly suffer from heart problems indicated that they are taking active steps to improve the health of their hearts, a shocking 19% said they’re not.Jennings says the reality is that most people only start worrying about their heart after their 40s, which 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 breast cancer, therefore it is vital that both men and women of any age lead healthy lifestyles.”According to Pharma Dynamics’ poll, 74% are planning a romantic night in this Valentine’s Day. However, with love in the air and wine flowing freely, it can be easy to overdo things. Jennings suggests the following heart-healthy tips for the big day. Choose a heart-healthy dinner: Prepare a candlelit-dinner at home or enjoy a picnic using one of our heart-healthy recipes, which were created especially for Valentine’s Day. Visit www.hugyourheart.co.za for a pan-fried chicken strips or spicy butter bean pita picnic recipe. Drink responsibly: enjoying too much alcohol can raise the levels of some fats in the blood and can lead to high blood pressure and heart failure. See www.hugyourheart.co.za and click on the link to picnic recipes for the ingredients. Give your sweetheart a box of dark chocolate: dark chocolate is rich in flavonoids – a nutrient source high in antioxidants, which may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Spend time with the one(s) you love: sharing quality time with someone special, whether it be a lover, friend, family or a beloved pet, helps reduce stress on the heart.Take a romantic walk, hike or dance up a storm with your partner: aim for at least 30 to 60 minutes of heart-pounding physical activity to gain the maximum benefits. Play a few romantic tunes: a number of studies have proven the beneficial effects that relaxing music has on blood pressure and heart rate. Pharma Dynamics has also pledged to raise R100 000 for the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA during February as part of the #hugyourheart campaign. For every Facebook post that is shared using #hugyourheart, Pharma Dynamics will donate R5 to the HSFSA. See www.hugyourheart.co.za for more details.