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“How young is your heart” World Heart Day, Sunday 24 September 2006

Controlling major risk factors such as physical inactivity, an unhealthy diet and tobacco use could prevent 80% of heart disease and stroke and help keep the heart healthy. This is why this year’s World Heart Day campaign asks: “How Young is Your Heart?”

World Heart Day is run by the World Heart Federation's member organizations in more than 100 countries. Activities on the day include health checks, walks, runs, jump rope, fitness sessions, public talks, stage shows, scientific forums, exhibitions, concerts and sports tournaments. Last year in Singapore for example, a World Heart Day heart fair attracted over 60,000 participants who took part in health screenings, aerobics classes, health quizzes, exhibits, school performances, nutritional counselling and food sampling. Similar events will be taking place this year asking participants: “How Young is Your Heart?”

“Heart disease and stroke is the world’s largest killer, claiming 17.5 million lives a year . Eighty per cent of these lives are from populations in low- and middle-income countries, many amongst people of working age” said Professor Sidney Smith, University of North Carolina and Chairman Scientific Advisory Board, World Heart Federation.

Physical activity is vitally important to maintain a healthy heart. Running for one hour or more each week could reduce the risk of heart disease by 42% . A brisk walking of 30 minutes each day has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease by about 18% and stroke by about 11% . Commuting to work by foot is a practical way of achieving this level of physical activity.

Physical inactivity increases the risk of obesity and overweight, diabetes and hypertension which make heart age run faster. The heart needs regular exercise to keep it pumping blood efficiently with every heart beat. Regular activity and its impact on associated risk factors helps to slow down the narrowing of the arteries to the heart and brain, encourages the body to use up excess stored fat, can help to reduce high blood pressure, improves “good” cholesterol levels (HDL cholesterol) and maintains normal blood glucose levels.

It is also important to balance calories consumed with calories burned to help maintain a healthy heart for life. A balanced diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grain products, lean meat, fish and pulses, alongside low-fat and fat-free products. Unsaturated soft margarines and oils such as sunflower, corn, rape-seed and olive oil are preferred to saturated fats.

Tobacco use is one of the most important risk factors to control. Quitting will help to keep the heart young as it helps maintain “good” cholesterol levels, reduces the levels of blood clotting and overall, decreases the chance of a sudden blockage of a blood vessel. According to the Framingham Heart Study, life duration is substantially shortened by tobacco users. Non-smokers may live about 8 years longer than smokers.

“If you are a smoker, try to quit or avoid smoking in the presence of your children. Allow them to live in a smoke-free environment,” said Professor Smith. “Smokers put their own lives at risk, but they also endanger the lives of those around them, with passive smoking increasing the risk of coronary heart disease by 25-30%. Breathing second-hand smoke for even a short time can have adverse effects on the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of heart attack.

“Controlling major risk factors can prevent heart disease and stroke and thereby keep the heart healthy,” said Dr Sania Nishtar, Chair, Foundations’ Advisory Board, World Heart Federation. “The good news is that it’s never too late to adopt a heart healthy lifestyle. By asking everyone to think about the age of their hearts on World Heart Day we’re encouraging the world's population to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle.”

To find out what activities will be taking place in each country on World Heart Day visit:

Michelle Roverelli | alfa
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