Published in: Seasons Magazine, March 2015
Recently, the Heart Foundation ran a hard-hitting public information campaign in conjunction with their annual appeal. The image of a murderer in the shadows indiscriminately claiming lives was hard-hitting and disturbing but it was also very effective in capturing our attention.
The Heart Foundation is New Zealand’s heart health charity leading the fight against heart disease. They fund research and promote heart health, helping New Zealanders to live fulfilled lives, and are steadfast in their goal to stop New Zealanders dying prematurely from heart disease.
Since the Heart Foundation started 45 years ago, heart disease death rates in New Zealand have halved and stroke death rates have almost halved. Despite these tremendous advances, these diseases still account for more than 30% of all deaths in New Zealand each year, many of which are premature and preventable.
Most of us know that the food and drink we choose to eat can play a huge part in looking after our heart health. The most up to date scientific research, according to the Heart Foundation, suggests that there may be some benefits of alcohol for reducing heart disease for some people, but this is not true for everyone, even when consumption is low or moderate. The relationship between alcohol and cardiovascular disease is complex, and for most people there will be little, or no, overall benefit. I was pleased to read that I fall into the category that allows me to enjoy the odd glass of wine now and then!
Nutrition plays an enormous part also, and sometimes when I am busy at Parliament or in the Hamilton West electorate, I fail to eat regularly and as well as I know I should. The Heart Foundation recommends eating three balanced meals a day, which provide a healthy balance of foods and nutrients. I recommend their website: www.heartfoundation.org.nz to all who are interested in this topic. It is an excellent resource, with great ideas about making small changes to diet and lifestyle that will help in achieving and maintaining a healthy heart.
Additionally, being active is also important to maintain a healthy heart. A great goal is aiming to be active in as many ways as possible throughout the day while avoiding sitting for long periods. I definitely manage to do this when I am walking (often running!) through the halls of Parliament. Doing just 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day, even in 10 minute chunks, can help to reduce our risk of heart disease and diabetes as well as reducing the risk of developing a stroke and high blood pressure.
Along with healthy eating and not smoking, physical activity improves heart health by preventing heart disease as well as aiding recovery after a heart event, and one of the best activities is walking. Anne and I recently completed the Kinloch to Kawakawa Bay walk, a lovely 4 hour return trek giving glorious views of Lake Taupo as the track climbs from Whangamata Bay and sidles along the top of a broad cliff. The bush is dominated by Rewarewa but there were stunning specimens of giant Matai too. Once you reach the rocky lookout, the track winds down to Kawakawa Bay. The swim at the end was most welcome on another hot day and a wonderful way to finish a magical excursion to a stunning part of our wider region.
Recently I was pleased to be invited to collect for the Heart Foundation, outside Te Rapa Countdown in Hamilton. I am always impressed by the generosity of New Zealanders and a busy Saturday morning at the supermarket saw many kind people giving what they could to a worthy cause. It is sobering to note that, according to Ministry of Health (2014) Mortality and Demographic data, Cardiovascular disease (heart, stroke and blood vessel disease) is still the leading cause of death in New Zealand – every 90 minutes a New Zealander dies from heart disease.
With many of these deaths being preventable, we owe it to ourselves, our children and our grandchildren to do what we can to stay active and “heart healthy”.