Less than one in 10 Canadians have ‘ideal’ heart health, study warns

Two joggers are silhouetted against the morning sky and reflect in a puddle. (JULIAN STRATENSCHULTE/AFP/Getty Images)

TORONTO –When it comes to regular exercise, healthy weight, eating fruits and veggies and staying away from smoking, an alarming new study suggests that only nine per cent of Canadians are heart healthy.

While we’re watching what we eat and exercising more, as a nation, our rates of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes are increasing in youth and adults.

“We’ve made some progress but we still have a long way to go. Canadians are at risk of heart attack and stroke and behaviour is very important ,” Dr. Beth Abramson, a cardiologist at St. Michael’s Hospital and a Heart and Stroke Foundation spokesperson, said.

READ MORE: 5 lifestyle changes to improve your heart’s health

“We need to pay attention to our heart health behaviour. This statistic is alarming because it will have long-term consequences on the population and on ourselves,” she said.

Story continues below advertisement

The new CANHEART health index, created by Canadian doctors and organizations, is meant to measure Canadians’ level of heart health. About 464,000 Canadians as young as 12 years old were asked about their health, activities and use of health care services between 2003 and 2011.

Six ideal heart health behaviours were considered including: smoking; obesity and body mass index; exercise; fruit and vegetable consumption; high blood pressure and diabetes.

READ MORE: Healthy doctors make healthy patients, Canadian study finds

Overall, women have better heart health scores than men. About 37 per cent of Canadian adults are considered in “poor” cardiovascular health and only 9.4 per cent are in the “ideal” category.

It’s worse in youth – 50 per cent of youth from 12 to 19 years old are in “poor” heart health and only 16.6 per cent are doing better. As Canadians aged, their heart health worsened, probably because of weight gain and the onset of hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.

British Columbia residents were the healthiest among their provincial peers, while Newfoundland had the worst rate of heart health.

READ MORE: How healthy is your city? 7 findings about Canada’s best and worth cancer-fighting cities

Heart attack and stroke are the second leading causes of death in Canada, Abramson notes.

Story continues below advertisement

“I see patients everyday in my office that are suffering from chest pain and angina. They’re the lucky ones who haven’t died of their heart attack,” she said.

The good news?  Canadians can still turn their heart health around. Abramson suggests doing so by going “back to basics” – pack your lunch, take 30 minutes out of your day to go for a walk, swap junk food for healthier snacks or use the stairs instead of the elevator.

The index was created by researchers at the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences (ICES), the Heart and Stroke Foundation and several Toronto-based hospitals including Sunnybrook and St. Mike’s.

The makers are hoping the tool will be used by the general public, doctors, researchers, organizations and policy makers alike.

Sponsored content