Baby boomers at risk of cardiac illness in old age, report says

In All, Health, News by Linda Givetash

This piece was also featured in: Waterloo Region Record
Published: Feb. 6, 2013 | [ WEB ] | [ PDF ]


Canadians may be living longer, but many are facing a decade of sickness in their final years.

A new report released by the Heart and Stroke Foundation found that baby boomers will experience a ten-year gap between how long they live and how long they live in good health. Heart disease, stroke and other chronic conditions are among the illnesses the age group is at risk of suffering.

For some local doctors, the findings of the report are alarming.

“Clearly there’s a population of patients that aren’t acting on widely available (health) information,” said Dr. Brian McNamara, cardiology lead at St. Mary’s General Hospital.

The report found that 85 per cent of baby boomers in Ontario fail to eat the minimum recommendation of more than five servings of fruits and vegetables each day. More than 40 per cent of boomers across the country aren’t engaging in moderate exercise.

Considering the number of public education campaigns organized by groups like the Heart and Stroke Foundation, McNamara said he is surprised that the healthy lifestyle message isn’t hitting home.

McNamara could only guess why boomers aren’t choosing to reduce risk factors.

“In their lifetime they’ve seen a lot of great medical technology evolve that can now keep people going for a long time,” he said. “The only explanation I can think of offhand for neglecting (lifestyle) is the expectation that medical technology might bail them out.”

The results of poor lifestyle choices are apparent in the emergency room.

“We are seeing a fair number of younger patients … having complications with coronary diseases far younger than they should,” McNamara said.

As boomers age, and in particular retire, McNamara said it can lead to an “avalanche” of new patients with coronary diseases.

Incidents related to heart health commonly occur a year after retirement because of a decline in activity compounded with other bad habits developed over the course of a lifetime, McNamara said.

“I can’t tell you how many people I see after a year of retirement,” he said. “They become sedentary, they gain weight … they don’t substitute work with something active.”

Making lifestyle changes including healthy eating, quitting smoking and exercising are important to adopt early to prevent or delay the onset of coronary disease. Otherwise, Canadians will not be able to enjoy their retirement years for very long.

“What you can do by taking care of these risk factors early on is you can push the time where you first get sick out, so instead of developing coronary disease at 60, you develop it at 70,” McNamara said.

Healthy lifestyle changes can help prevent other diseases like cancer, too.

In response to the report’s findings, the Heart and Stroke foundation launched a new campaign called Make Health Last.

The campaign website provides information on making lifestyle changes and offers a risk assessment test.

For those interested in reducing their risk factors, McNamara also recommended patients visit their family doctor to assess their current situation and develop a plan for better health.

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About the Author

Linda Givetash

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Linda Givetash is a Canadian-South African freelance journalist based in Vancouver, B.C. Her work has appeared in print, digital and broadcast media outlets around the globe.