A Happy Heart

18th May 2018

Despite the rise in apparently healthy living, a survey has revealed that a surprising amount of people still don’t understand how to maintain a healthy heart. Optima Magazine reports…

Greasy spoons may be under threat from today’s cappuccino culture, but heart disease is still one of Britain’s deadliest conditions, killing more than one in four people in the UK. Yet despite the shocking statistics – and the rise of ‘clean eating’ and ‘kale consciousness’ – a new study by AFIB Matters (an organisation devoted to the effects of atrial fibrillation, or abnormal heart rhythm) has revealed that Brits are less than clued up when it comes to heart health.

In fact, more than half of us (50.5%) have a poor knowledge of basic information, a study of 2,500 adults has found. Worryingly, that figure is even lower for men – with the survey revealing that only 49.8% of men are savvy on their heart health, compared to 51.5% of women.

And despite our nation becoming increasingly health-conscious, ignorance towards heart health rings true across the country. AFIB Matter’s survey found that those in the south east were the most in the know about heart health, though they still only scored 55.6% on their heart health test. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Northern Ireland (the land famous for its fried bread, Ulster Fry) was the most unknowing when it came to heart health, scoring a dismal 38.2%. Despite offering the unique culinary delights of deep-fried Mars bars and sugary Irn-Bru, the Scots seemed to be much more aware of heart health, coming in the middle of the scoreboard, with just under half of respondents (48%) demonstrating a good knowledge on the subject.

So what exactly should Brits know when it comes to heart health? Well, only 38.1% of the 2,500 respondents questioned by AFIB Matters were able to say what our heart consists of – four heart chambers and four valves. Instead, 26.1% of those surveyed believed the heart has two heart chambers and two valves; 22.8% said that the heart has four heart chambers and two valves, and 13% thought the heart has three heart chambers and three valves.

And though we may be spending more than ever on gym memberships and fitness products, AFIB Matter’s survey also revealed that only 28% of Brits know how much weekly exercise is needed in order to reduce the risk of cardiac diseases – 150 minutes a week. The survey revealed that 17.4% of Brits believed that 90 minutes was enough weekly exercise to reduce the risk of cardiac diseases, 11.9% thought an hour per week would suffice, and shockingly, the majority of Brits (42.7%) thought that just 30 minutes of exercise per week would keep the heart happy.

It turns out we should have paid more attention in science classes too. The survey revealed that most Brits are also unaware of the heart’s basic functions, as only 29.9% of Brits knew that the heart pumps 4-5 litres of blood per minute.

There is great potential to improve health by avoiding certain risks like smoking and a poor diet, but it’s also important to understand that good heart health starts with awareness.

Heart diseases can come in many different forms – but one that has become much more common in the past 20 years is atrial fibrillation (AF). The irregular, and often rapid, heart rate that it causes, can potentially lead to heart failure or stroke.

AF affects an estimated 1.5 million people in the UK, but according to AFIB Matter’s survey, only half of Brits (50.7%) are aware of the disease, and knew that atrial fibrillation was a type of abnormal heart rhythm. Worryingly, 20.9% thought AF was the narrowing or blockage of blood vessels, 9% thought it was an abnormality/defect with the structure of the heart, and 19.5% thought it was when blood supply to the heart becomes restricted.

What’s more concerning is that almost a third of Brits did not know that atrial fibrillation could occur in all ages. 23.3% believed it would only occur in people over 70 years old, and 5.1% thought it was only occur in people over 40 years old. 4.3% believed AF occurred particularly in young adults. Moreover, while 34% of Brits said that atrial fibrillation cannot cause hypertension, a distressing 20.4% of Brits thought that AF couldn’t cause heart failure, 23.3% didn’t think it would cause palpitations, while 22.3% did not believe it would cause a stroke.

But although the majority of Brits are oblivious to heart health basics, they are aware of what constitutes a healthy body mass index (BMI). Interestingly, over half of Brits (53.8%) knew that a BMI score of 20 would mean they were at a healthy weight and would not need to lose any weight. However, 18% of those surveyed thought a BMI of 25 indicated a healthy weight and no need to lose weight, 16.8% thought it was a BMI of 28, and even 11.3% thought a BMI of 32 was low enough not to need to shed the pounds – when in actual fact, a BMI of 28 and over would be considered overweight.

Professor Gregory Y H Lip from the AFIB Matters taskforce comments: “An important aspect of lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases is managing health behaviours and other risk factors, such as diet, body mass index (BMI), blood pressure, cholesterol and ensuring 150 minutes of exercise a week. We’re aware that many still need educating on the risks but we are working towards creating public awareness about heart health and atrial fibrillation specifically. After all, atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm problem, and is associated with a five-fold excess risk of stroke or death.”

To find out more visit http://www.afibmatters.org/en_GB/About-atrial-fibrillation/atrial-fibrillation-infographic

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