Every year on the 29th of September, nations across the world celebrate ‘World Heart Day’. Today we recognise and raise awareness on the effects of an unhealthy high-calorie diet and sedentary lifestyle on society. This year in particular is extremely challenging.
A slow economy, rising prevalence of cardiovascular risk factors and the ongoing battle against Covid-19 pushes the need for a collective effort to curb the rising death rate posed by heart disease.
Malaysians have failed to properly acknowledge that heart disease has been the leading cause of death in the country for the past 20 years. We were shocked by data from the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey showing the high prevalence of diabetes in 1 out of every 5 persons.
Diabetes contributes to the aggressive narrowing of blood vessels in the body as well as weakening heart muscles, increasing the chances of heart failure as well as sudden cardiac death. Compound this with smoking habits and raised blood pressure, we are sitting on a ticking time bomb.
When death occurs in the elderly, it is devastating. But for heart disease to afflict the young, it leaves one speechless. It is no longer uncommon to hear of friends or colleagues in the prime of their careers who would pass out or suffer from heart attacks. They leave a young family, broken and parentless, a scar that never heals. The National Cardiovascular Registry indicates that 25% (that’s one in four!) of all heart attacks happens to those below the age of 50!
The theme for World Heart Day 2020 is ‘Use heart to beat heart disease’. We must embrace the need for change and realise that we must take better care of our heart now especially in times of Covid-19. It is during these challenging times that our heart is most vulnerable.
Many are wary of visiting health care facilities, neglecting potential symptoms that could lead to serious heart disease. Many patients experience worsening control of their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar due to stress, caffeine consumption, lack of sleep and the inability to exercise exacerbated by the pandemic.
Today, us heart doctors urge you to listen to your hearts and take the necessary steps to make lifestyle changes for the better.
Use your heart to influence those around you. As individuals, we should lead others by practicing a healthy lifestyle and set a good example to loved ones, especially to younger generations. As employers, we should invest in the health of our employees as it helps boost productivity and makes for a better work environment in the long haul. Employers could conduct staff health screenings and empower staff to stay healthy by creating incentives to boost physical activity.
Use your heart to make better choices. If you are at risk of developing heart disease, adopt a low-calorie, high-fibre diet and avoid sugary drinks. Make small changes like taking the stairs instead of the elevator and walking to the local shops instead of driving.
Use your heart and listen to your body. Initiate conversations with doctors and experts to ensure your risk factors and illness are in control. Know that healthcare facilities are safe to visit for those in need. Take all the necessary precautions to avoid Covid-19, but do not neglect your heart in the process.
We must snap out of this lull and apathy. We must act as individuals and as a society to reduce heart disease and the damages it brings to families and communities.
Use your heart to beat heart disease. Now and forever.
Prof Dr Sazzli Kasim is a consultant cardiologist and Hospital Director, UiTM. He is also a Council Member with the College of Physicians, Academy of Medicine of Malaysia.
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