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Heart and Stroke Foundation warns: time crunch is stealing healthy years from Canadians

A mix of real and perceived barriers contribute to shortened lifespan

Ottawa November 29, 2011. Canadians are so focused on the here and now that they are losing out on the opportunity to live a full and healthy life, warns the Heart and Stroke Foundation (HSF). Its new survey[1] of of more than 2,000 adults found that even though Canadians know how to protect their heart health, the majority can't or won't commit the time to do so.

"Eight out of 10 Canadians know that heart disease and stroke can be prevented, postponed or treated by making healthy lifestyle choices but they are focusing on the barriers rather than the opportunities," says David Sculthorpe, CEO, Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.

"Three-quarters said they would be more active and over half said they would eat healthier meals if they could. And one of the leading barriers that keeps them from following through? Time," Sculthorpe said.

Time Barriers to Physical Activity

  • Almost half of Canadians (46%) cite long work days and lack of time as a reason for not getting active on a regular basis.
  • Between work, family and other obligations, 44% say they have no time for regular physical activity.
  • And, almost a third of respondents (31%) say the time they would like to spend being physically active, they instead spend commuting. 

"The sad irony is that the 'time barrier' is getting in the way of steps that can help Canadians avoid heart disease and stroke, add years to their life, and ultimately, life to their years," says Dr. Beth Abramson, cardiologist and spokesperson with the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. "These results are not encouraging."

Time Barriers to Healthy Eating

  • Forty-one per cent of respondents say healthy meals take too long to prepare.
  • More than half (51%) say too many fast food outlets in their community lack healthy choices.
  • Seven in 10 say restaurants don't have enough fruit and vegetable options.

Benefits of Finding Time

"The challenge of finding time is a reality for most working Canadians, or those with competing obligations," says Dr. Abramson. "But tackling the time dilemma is absolutely critical. The disturbing statistics tell the tale: One in three Canadian deaths is from heart disease and stroke, and it is the number one killer of women. We must make the effort to find time now to do the things that will give us the greatest health benefits."

The Heart and Stroke Foundation's new campaign, Make Death Wait, challenges Canadians to take charge of their heart health by encouraging them to make one million healthy actions by the end of February 2012.

Some simple steps make a difference when it comes to healthy years of life, and the benefits are huge. Here's a snapshot:

  • Getting 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity activity per week reduces the risk of heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure and diabetes by30%. Canadians can achieve this in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Being inactive can shave almost four years off a person's expected lifespan.
  • Eating 5+ servings of fruit and vegetables a day can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by about 20%. Low vegetable and fruit consumption can shave 1.3 years off a person's expected lifespan.
  • Controlling high blood pressure can cut the risk of stroke by 40% and of heart attack by up to 25%. High blood pressure can shave two and a half years off a person's expected lifespan.

The survey found that 82% of Canadians know they can prevent heart disease and stroke. But this knowledge isn't being translated into action when it comes to the most important modifiable risk factors that can reduce their risk of these diseases.

"If we don't make the effort to find time now to do the things that will give us the greatest health benefits, we're going to run out of time altogether," says Dr. Abramson. "I've seen the difference it makes in someone's health when they invest the time to incorporate physical activity and healthy eating into their lives."

 

Barriers to Healthier Living: Are They Real or Perceived?

1. Lack of time: Almost half (46%) of survey respondents say they don't have enough time to squeeze exercise into a busy day, and that healthy meals take too long to prepare, with 31% of employed people blaming commute times.

Verdict: Perceived Barrier. Time is consistently cited as a barrier to healthy eating, especially the time it takes to plan, shop for and prepare healthy meals. It's true that Canadians are facing a number of time crunches. For example, results from the 2010 Canadian General Social Survey show that a third (36%) of employed Canadians have a one-way commute time of 30 or more minutes a day. Average commute times may be highest in Canada's six largest cities (30 minutes one way) but are lower in the suburbs (23 minutes) and towns (19 minutes). However, Statistics Canada also reports that almost a third (29%) of Canadians 20 years or older spend two or more hours a day (15 or more hours a week) watching television, with almost 16% reporting more than 20 or more hours per week. In addition, 15% of Canadians age 20 and over report spending at least 1.5 hours a day of their leisure time on their computers.

What HSFC says: Even small investments in active time can have a huge impact. "Some of the time spent in sedentary leisure activities could easily be devoted to more active and healthy pursuits," said Dr. Abramson. "Those who say they have no time should take comfort in the knowledge that stints of 10 minutes are beneficial." When it comes to food preparation, there are many ways to save time; these start with planning meals for a week, picking recipes, making a grocery list and sticking to it. Health Check is one way the Foundation helps Canadians make healthy choices by identifying them in grocery stores and restaurants.

2. Lack of facilities: A quarter of respondents say lack of facilities is a barrier to being active. 

Verdict: Perceived Barrier. Canadians don't need to go to a facility to be active. Previous research by the Canadian Fitness and Lifestyle Research Institute found that 66% of Canadians reported there are safe places to walk in their community and almost half (45%) say there are many designated physical activity and sport facilities. This doesn't mean that there isn't room for improvement. In the HSFC poll, half (47%) of respondents thought their community could be made more activity-friendly. 

What HSFC says: Active, healthy community design strategies – such as good public transit, well-maintained parks, and safe, efficient walking and cycling networks – make it easier to get the physical activity Canadians need to promote heart health, prevent stroke and maintain a healthy lifestyle. For Canadians who would like to see safer walking trails, bike paths, and more health-promoting environments in their neighborhoods –– the Heart and Stroke Foundation has developed a  Community Design Tool Kit to help you champion healthy changes within your community.

3. Cost: Income and geography play a big role in determining access to affordable healthy foods. Unfortunately, unhealthy options are often the cheap and accessible choice for many Canadians. A quarter (25%) state that there are not enough stores in their neighbourhood selling fresh produce, one half (51%) report there are too many fast food outlets that lack healthy options, and more than two thirds (71%) agree that food service outlets don't have enough fruit and vegetable options.

Verdict: Real Barrier. Access to healthy foods varies significantly across the country and income and geography can make critical differences. In the HSFC survey, almost half (47%) of respondents said the cost of fresh fruit and vegetables is a barrier to healthy eating, with the proportion being highest in Atlantic Canada (64%) and lowest in Quebec (39%). Not surprisingly, those with lower household incomes or in lower-income neighborhoods were more likely to see cost as a barrier to healthy eating.

What HSFC says: To increase access to healthy foods all sectors (government, industry and non-governmental organizations) need to implement a number of measures to make it easier for Canadians to make healthy choices, including: 

  • Initiatives that will assist low income Canadians to access healthy food choices.
  • Agricultural policies and subsidies that can make fruits and vegetables more affordable and accessible.
  • More access to stores with healthy food options.

4. Lack of motivation: Half of Canadians say they lack the ability to get motivated, and – even more importantly – to sustain the motivation to make healthier choices.

Verdict: Real Barrier. Four out of 10 say that in the past they've tried to start exercising or become more active but weren't able to maintain it. In addition, a third of survey respondents say they've tried to improve their diets in the past but couldn't maintain it. Challenges included the fact that almost half (44%) use food to address emotional issues such as stress or depression, 41% think preparing healthy meals takes too long and 35% are convinced healthy foods aren't as tasty.  

What HSFC says: Once again, small steps can lead to big results. You don't need to run a marathon – but you have to get off the couch. Being active with a partner, using a pedometer or tracking activity can help motivate and keep you active. Develop a list of quick and easy recipes and always keep the ingredients on hand. The Heart and Stroke Foundation provides tips and tools: download the Heart&Stroke Health Check Recipe Helper App for quick healthy tips, tools and recipes and to learn how to be physically active throughout your day.

Reality Check

"I'm one of the lucky ones," says real estate agent Arul Myles Mylvaganam. "My diagnosis of heart disease was the wake-up call I needed to make time for my health. I know how difficult it is to find time to be active, but I'm finding simple solutions that are making a difference. I believe that prevention is the best medicine."

Arul now takes time to walk every day, aiming for at least 30 minutes. "I want to make sure I am around for my children, nieces and nephews, and to be a positive role model for them," he says.

"Unfortunately, a health scare like Arul's is all too often the motivating factor that necessitates making health changes that would have prevented heart disease in the first place," says Dr. Abramson. 

The Heart and Stroke Foundation emphasizes the importance of being healthy role models for youngsters. More Canadian children are overweight and for the first time, the country's younger generations are expected to live shorter lives than their parents because of obesity.

A Healthy Future

The Foundation has set an ambitious goal to reduce death from heart disease and stroke by 25 per cent by 2020. "That's a big goal, and we're only going to get there by championing a movement to get Canadians to act and be their own health advocates," says David Sculthorpe, CEO of HSFC. "As we approach our 60th anniversary, we are taking stock. For six decades we have supported Canadians in living longer, healthier lives. But, with one in three Canadian deaths due to heart disease and stroke, our work is clearly not done. And we're committed to reducing the toll of these diseases on Canadians' lives."

The Foundation is challenging Canadians to take charge of their heart health, encouraging one million healthy actions by the end of February 2012. These range from simple lifestyle changes like going for a walk to quitting smoking. "Our national multimedia Make Death Wait campaign is about giving Canadians longer, fuller lives," says Sculthorpe. "We want Canadians to take their heart health seriously." Canadians can take control of their own health by logging their healthy actions.

Since 1952, the Foundation has invested more than $1.3 billion in research into heart disease and stroke, worked with government to support health policies that reduce the burden of heart disease and stroke, and created educational tools and programs to help inform Canadians of their risk, and how they can take action. 

Sadly, far too many Canadians still don't know the alarming statistics, or aren't acting on them," says Sculthorpe.

The HSFC survey found that only 56% of Canadians are personally concerned about heart disease and stroke and slightly more than half know it is the major cause of death for Canadian women.

"We all need to carve out time to take the simple steps that can prevent the devastating effects of heart disease and stroke," adds Sculthorpe. "We know our goal can only be achieved through solutions found in partnership with the Foundation, governments and Canadians."

To learn more about the Foundation's new campaign to inspire Canadians, visit heartandstroke.ca/time.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation, a volunteer-based health charity, leads in eliminating heart disease and stroke, reducing their impact through the advancement of research and its application, the promotion of healthy living and advocacy.



[1]Online survey of 2,160 Canadians 18 years and older conducted by Environics Research Group in October 2011.