What you need to know about heart disease

February is heart health month. So what do you need to know about heart health? 

As the central organ in our circulatory system, the heart is vital to our overall health and nearly everything that that goes on in our bodies. Yet for many of us, finding the motivation to adopt a heart-healthy diet or venturing into the gym in our busy, fast-paced lives is often challenging enough.

Heart Month is a national campaign that mobilizes Canadians to raise awareness about heart disease and funds to improve the lives of those with heart disease. Cardiovascular diseases are chronic, lifelong diseases caused by interactions among genetic predispositions, health behaviours and the environment. More than 1.4 million Canadians have heart disease and nine out of ten Canadians over the age of 20 have at least one risk factor for heart disease or stroke, including smoking, obesity and diabetes.

However, research efforts are under way to investigate the connections of heart disease and diabetes, as well as the consequences arising from heart disease.

“My research is about heart disease and what happens when you have diabetes,” said Brian Rodrigues, a professor of pharmaceutical sciences at UBC. “Really what we are studying in terms of heart disease are the complications related to diabetes. When people develop heart disease and diabetes, the blood vessels supplying oxygen to their heart get blocked, so the muscles in their heart don’t get a steady supply of oxygen and die. Imagine a car that needs to be moving, but doesn’t have any fuel. It has no energy so it can’t work.”

Diet and exercise are the main changes that can be made at any age. But for those with high levels of cholesterol, medicine might be needed to keep it in check. In addition, regular check-ups of cholesterol levels at least every five years are recommended as risk factors change.

“The problem with this disease — it’s not that it can’t be cured — it’s that nobody wants to change their lifestyle. The levels of inactivity today and the processed food that people eat are often conducive to these types of health problems. So I’m always talking to people about exercise, but it’s also really about managing your diet,” said Rodrigues. 

In efforts to raise awareness about heart disease and to foster research interest in the field, the UBC Heart and Stroke Foundation club is also hosting a number of events throughout the month, including a Heart to Heart Gala on February 28, a Skating with Hearty event and a Circulatory Heart Run in the month of March.

“Using our awareness campaigns, we hope to inspire others to deliberately care for their heart and to understand that valuing their heart and its health is the right start to valuing the gift of life. We would like to see UBC students, faculty and staff become committed to adopting a healthy lifestyle consisting of a proper diet, adequate exercise and good habits, such as avoiding smoking and minimizing stress.” said Eugenie Kwong, director of fundraising at the UBC Heart and Stroke Foundation.

At their Heart to Heart Gala event, representatives from the Heart and Stroke Foundation will talk about current initiatives and professionals working in the field of cardiovascular disease at UBC. The representatives will also showcase some of the research that they are conducting in the field.

To learn more about heart disease, students can also sign up for a CAMMPUS information session or receive a free cardiovascular assessment test from the UBC Pharmacists Clinic. Finally, students can also gain information about their heart health and Heart Month by visiting the Heart and Stroke Foundation website.