Do heart attack survivors change their unhealthy ways? Study suggests they don’t

A doctor looks over his notes while talking to a patient. Adam Berry / Getty Images

TORONTO – Are survivors of heart attack or stroke changing their unhealthy ways once they recover? A new Canadian study that looks at patients from around the world suggests that people aren’t adopting better lifestyles.

The study shows that post-heart incident, about half of patients around the world weren’t giving up on smoking, and for the most part, they weren’t eating healthier and committing to exercise either.

The poorer a nation was, the less likely their patients were to break their bad habits, but overall, rates leading a healthier life post-heart attack was low.

“The low-income countries had the worst diet but if you look at the people from high-income countries, they did not do that much better,” lead author Dr. Koon Teo, of Hamilton General Hospital and McMaster University, told reporters.

Even then, advice doled out by physicians isn’t necessarily being followed by patients with precarious health following a heart attack or stroke.

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“People who had heart disease or stroke – about a fifth of them still continued to smoke and only a third of people had regular physical activities. Just about two fifths of them ate what we determine as a healthy diet,” Teo said.

Teo and her team in Hamilton, Ont., studied the health data of almost 154,000 people between 35 and 70 years old in their report, published Tuesday in the scientific journal JAMA – the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Read more: 5 lifestyle changes to improve your heart’s health

Subjects were divided into four categories: high income countries – Canada, Sweden and United Arab Emirates, upper middle income countries –  South Africa, Turkey, Argentina and Brazil, lower middle income countries – China, Columbia and Iran and low income countries – Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.

Some patients came from urban settings and others from rural communities.

The researchers zeroed in on subjects’ responses regarding smoking, levels of exercise and their eating habits.

About 7,500 people included in the study had a heart attack or stroke.

Results showed that only 52.5 per cent of patients who had ever smoked quit after their heart incident. Giving up on cigarettes was highest in high-income countries at 75 per cent and lowest in struggling countries at 38 per cent.

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Low-income countries also had the lowest rates of healthier eating – 25 per cent compared to 45 per cent on the other end of the spectrum.

Read more: Top 10: Some of the worst foods for your heart’s health

Another 14 per cent of subjects weren’t even including any of the three factors considered in the study and only 4 per cent were following exercise, healthy eating and a non-smoking lifestyle.

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