In the 1980s —as research refined connections to heart disease with consumption of fats, and posters and stickers of the now well known food pyramid were widely disseminated throughout schools and households across New Zealand— knowledge of cardiovascular disease increased and activities including fundraisers such as skipathons further brought our hearts to top of mind while causing us to pull on the wristbands and legwarmers with an enthusiasm that Richard Simmons would be proud of.
More recently, and especially now with the attention that COVID 19 has snatched from other life threatening diseases, awareness of things like heart health has reduced, and for some it has become a nostalgic memory, along with the leggings and lycra.
But, this is not the case for those who work in health, witnessing its ugly affects on an hourly basis or those that have a family connection to it. I can tick yes to both of these. Last week, I visited the team at Telelegistics to share some of these experiences and thoughts on heart health for Heart Health Awareness month.
Heart (or cardiovascular) disease in Aotearoa still causes 1 in 3 deaths per year. Every 90 minutes one New Zealander dies from heart disease – which is more than 6,700 lives every year. 6,700 families that are forever impacted. Sadly, many of these deaths are premature and preventable.
At this moment, more than 170,000 kiwis are living with heart disease requiring specialised care and support in their communities.
In 2018, as a 45 year old of Pasifika descent and a strong familiy history of cardiovascular disease, I faced the harsh realities of statistics that I’d inherited partly due to my gentics and ethnicity. Two years ago based on a cardiovascular risk calculator I had a 5% risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next five years. To anyone else reading that statement it could easily be brushed off, but when they are your odds and when you are still ‘relatively’ young with four kids you want to be around for, this was not something I was prepared to settle for.
In mid-2019, I was fortunate to connect with an organisation called Edison Health, who provide a precision driven health and wellness services that focuses on the early detection of health risk factors, the prevention of illness and the optimisation of health and wellness. Using data gathered through genetic profiling, targeted biomarker testing and biometric analysis they develop a highly personalised and actionable plan to optimise and maintain health and longevity.
My genetic profiling confirmed a moderate association with the likelihood to develop diabetes and high blood pressure if I do not actively manage my health and wellness.
In addition, part of the plan monitors health and wellness behaviours through something called an Oura ring, which tracks body temperature deviation, resting heart rate, heart rate variability and your respiratory rate. This data is then presented to you in an app that can tell you how long you slept for, how well you slept and can even track changes to your normal trends such as when you are sick. The Oura ring also helps to motivate me as a physical reminder of my Edison Health and Wellness Plan.
This approach aligns to our mission and strategy at Spark Health— to bring the future faster to NZ Healthcare through digital services through enabling the creation of a wellness team made up of people, clinicians, and machines.
While this level of care is not accessible to everyone today, the reason I share my experience is to show how having the right information, on a frequent basis and having control of your own wellness journey can empower you to make real changes to your health and ultimately lifespan. When I started the program my cardiogenic (heart) age (which includes my genetic and biomarker results) was 53 and now it is 45. My goal moving forward is to keep my cardiogenic (heart) age less than my actual age.
In this month focused on heart health, my message is; talk to your GP about getting your heart health assessed, particularly if you have any of the risk factors (e.g. age, gender, ethnicity) and use the information available to you (using digital tools if and where you can) to focus on making those daily adjustments that will ultimately make a real difference. This mindset of creating your own wellbeing team can be applied holistically in all aspects of your health and well-being to prevent illness rather than act as the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff: as the quote in the Edison offices reads:
The Doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.
Thomas A Edison, 1903