Love your heart, make one change

"One World, One Home, One Heart."  This is the theme for World Heart Day on 29 September 2011. The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) is challenging all South Africans to do just one thing to improve the health of their heart during Heart Awareness Month in September. 

How many of us spare a thought for our heart’s health?  Why should you care about your heart? Chances are you only stop to think about your heart when it lets you down. Yet Cardiovascular Disease (CVD), which includes heart disease and stroke, is the world’s number one killer. A staggering 80% of these deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries – South Africa being one of these countries.  But the majority of these deaths could be prevented by eating a healthy diet, engaging in regular physical activity and avoiding smoking.

Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, CEO of the HSFSA comments: "After two years of focusing on heart health in the workplace, this Heart Awareness Month the HSFSA calls on individuals to reduce their own and their family’s risk of heart disease, by learning about and sharing the steps that can be taken to improve heart health in the home. It is never too late or too early to start. Simple adjustments can make an enormous difference and have been proven to reduce one’s risk for heart disease.

"Each individual needs to take charge of their own and their family’s heart health and become home advocates for healthy living. Stocking your home with healthy food options, being physically active, limiting “couch potato” behaviour and banning smoking in the home and car (thus avoiding exposing your family to second hand smoke) will all go a long way towards improving your family’s heart health. In particular, I would like to see parents invest in their child’s health as much as they  plan for their children’s education, safety and financial security."

'Don't be a victim of ignorance'

Dr Vash stresses the importance of not being a victim of ignorance: ‘We are fortunate to live in times when a heart attack does not have to kill or cause disability. Acting fast and getting the appropriate treatment can save a life! Learn more about the symptoms of a heart attack, the risk factors and how to reduce your risk, as well as what to do in an emergency should an incident happen at home,"she says. "Have your blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose tested and know the emergency telephone numbers or keep them handy in your home.”

Global attention is currently being focused on CVD’s, with the United Nations (UN) High-Level Summit on Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs) taking place just before World Heart Day in September this year. NCD’s are made up of CVD, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases, and of this group CVD’s are the leading killers. Of concern is that the vast majority of these diseases are preventable – up to 80% - and most are due to lifestyle related factors.

Global summit

For the first time ever, the UN General Assembly will hold a NCD Summit involving Heads of State, in September 2011, to address the threat posed by NCDs to low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) – South Africa being one such country. This decision to hold the summit was unanimously taken by the UN General Assembly.

The UN NCD Summit involving Heads of State will bring together government representatives from around the world to discuss solutions to the growing danger posed by NCDs, and agree what action needs to be taken. There have only been 28 such summits in UN history which highlights the significance of the decision and the magnitude of the problem.

The need for such a global summit is highlighted in that the four groups of diseases – cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and chronic respiratory diseases – are responsible for 35 million annual deaths globally, 80% of which occur in LMICs. The WHO estimates that global deaths from NCDs will continue to rise over the next 10 years, with the African region expected to see the highest relative increase (27%). An increasing body of evidence shows that the impact of NCDs on individuals, communities, and countries is undermining the urgent need for development in LMICs.

1 in 3 men, 1 in 4 women

In South Africa the latest mortality figures available for 2008 shows that NCD’s are the second biggest killers, after HIV/Aids, and that CVD’s top this list. In 2008 the number of deaths reported due to heart disease and diabetes was about 72 000, more than twice the number of deaths due to cancer. The heart disease number includes deaths due to heart failure, heart attacks and hypertension related heart disease. More than half these deaths occur prematurely in people of a working age, who most likely generated incomes within families, and who could have played an active role in the country’s development.

This is not surprising when considering that in the country we have 7.7 million adults who smoke, 6.3 million with hypertension, about 8 million with high blood cholesterol, about 1 million with diabetes and 9 million who are overweight or obese. Such high numbers of people with risk factors for heart disease will inevitably result in high morbidity and mortality due to these conditions.

Dr Vash continues: "What this means for us South Africans is that 1 in 3 of our men and 1 in 4 of our  women will be affected.  Moreover, premature deaths caused by CVD in our people of working age (35-64yrs) are expected to increase by 41% by 2030. The negative economic impact of this will be enormous on both families (as this is the bread-winner age) and on the country as a whole. These diseases can affect all South Africans, irrespective of race, gender or socio-economic status. That’s why it is so important that we join together as a nation and help each other.  If each person who reads this could reach out to one fellow South African with a heart healthy reminder, and each of those people did the same, we could reach all South Africans and eventually people across the globe. That’s worth thinking about."

Celebrate Heart Awareness Month by doing one positive thing to improve your heart health. Remember,  just one small change can make a big difference – a life-saving one!

*Get your heart health assessed at Clicks Clinics this September. For more information visit the Heart Foundation's website at

(The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa press release)

- (Health24, September 2011)

Read more:

Smoking and heart disease
Diet solutions for heart disease
Exercise key to a healthy heart

Any questions? Ask Health24's Cardiologist

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
27% - 9954 votes
73% - 26318 votes