I used to be naïve about heart health. I thought it was a disease for ‘old people’. Then someone from a previous job – around my age – died suddenly and I had my wake-up call. And someone else I knew growing up suffered from a stroke. He’s doing well, by all accounts, but that was another shock.

Now I know that even a seemingly ‘slim’ person (who is unfit and leads an unhealthy lifestyle) is at risk of a major heart attack or stroke. They could have ‘hidden’ conditions which – if left unchecked – seriously jeopardise their health and longevity. Things such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol are not just ‘genetic’ but majorly impacted by the daily choices we make in terms of the stress busting techniques we use (or don’t), the amount of sleep we get, the amount of exercise we take and the amount of processed foods we consume.

Sadly, the environment we live in has become ‘obesogenic’ – in other words, it’s an environment that makes it almost easier to be overweight or obese than to be slim. Anyone who regularly consumes a high-fat, sugary or processed food diet, or those who take little exercise, drink too much alcohol or smoke are putting themselves in the risk category. For anyone living this kind of life – especially those aged 30 or over – it’s time to stop being naïve and to wake up to the reality of heart health.

What are the Stats on Cardiovascular Disease?

Thankfully the past number of decades has seen Ireland make massive strides forwards in terms of reducing the amounts of deaths from cardiovascular disease (CVD). This is largely due to improved treatments.

However, experts are now warning that the tide is likely to turn the other way, with the epidemic of obesity and diabetes we are currently facing (in addition to low levels o physical activity), this could mean we could see a rise in CVD mortality if the lifestyle that the Irish public is choosing doesn’t improve in health terms soon.

Recent research conducted by the World Health Organisation suggests that 32.7 per cent of Irish adults do not get enough exercise. Irish women are leading substantially less active lives than men, with 28.3 per cent of men ‘overly inactive’, rising to 37.1 per cent amongst women Little progress has been made in improving physical activity levels between 2001 and 2016 and, if current trends continue, the global target of reducing sedentary lifestyle by 10 per cent by 2025 will not be met.

Even worse, our children are at serious risk. Research shows that four out of five of our children do not get the recommended one-hour of physical activity each day. Currently, almost a third of Irish children are now overweight and in 2016 nine per cent of girls and 10 per cent of boys in Ireland were classed as obese.

According to experts working within the field, more than one third of children presenting to the specialist weight management service at Temple Street Children’s Hospital in Dublin already have risk factors for heart disease. So, what does this say for the future health of our country?

What Can you Do About Cardiovascular Disease?

Firstly, get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked with your GP. Next, if you’re overweight, start a weight loss programme. If you aren’t sure what your BMI or body fat content is, come in to us for a 25 euro, no-obligations assessment and we’ll arm you with all the knowledge you need about your current weight.

Then we’ll discuss how we can help. All of our weight loss programmes are based in science and we do not use a ‘diet’ approach. Instead, we look at changing habits and attitudes so that you get on top of your weight in the long term. It is a very different approach to jumping from one diet to the next. Our plans will help you to lose anything from 1 to 4 pounds each week until you hit your goal weight and then we urge you to seriously consider a ‘Maintenance Programme’, because sometimes keeping that weight off is as hard as losing it in the first place (but worth every bit of effort).

Secondly, start introducing some activity into your life. Try to be role model for your children and encourage them to be active too. Put down the phone/laptop. Get away from technology. You don’t have to even pound it out at the gym to get the heart health and weight loss benefits. Just walking 5 kms on most days of the week is plenty.

According to Cardiologist Professor Bill McEvoy: “We know that many people’s jobs are now more sedentary, people are increasingly busy, and have less time to exercise. We know that social media and increasing digital connectivity have encroached on our time available to be physically active. When you add to that the abundance of relatively cheap and unhealthy foods, it’s a lethal combination.”

Be Wary of Food Outlets

Shockingly, and as we’ve mentioned in our blogs and our podcasts here, Professor McEvoy has also noticed a deterioration in our standards since he’s returned from working in the US for over ten years. He continues, “Having been away from Ireland for a number of years, one of the things that struck me when I came home was how so many fast food outlets at filling stations had sprung up since I left. IN many ways, these are a symbol of the challenges we face in improving CVD health and reducing risk.”

He’s right. It’s happening. Walk into any petrol station and you’ll be greeted by a tray of doughnuts or pastries. I remember the same scenario over twenty years ago when I was on a J1 visa in the States. I never dreamed that we’d be facing the same challenge back in Ireland at any stage.

So be armed when you’re in your car and you’re hungry – always have alternative, healthy snacks to hand, stay well hydrated and stay on top of hunger by eating regularly, always focusing on lean proteins and healthy vegetables. Our hearts are precious organs that help us stay alive; we take them for granted but they’re worth thinking about.

And let’s not put our health in the hands of the marketers, the petrol stations, the supermarkets or the fast-food joints. Cardiovascular disease is a deadly condition and It’s time to take back the control ourselves – before it’s too late.

Blog Post by Maebh Coyle