Let’s help the beat go on

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Adjunct Professor John G Kelly, AM

Group CEO, National Heart Foundation of Australia
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John joined the Heart Foundation in August 2016. Previous to that, he led sector reform for aged care as CEO of Aged and Community Services Australia. He has extensive clinical, management and consulting background in the health sector, including previous careers in law and in cardiac nursing and current academic appointments with the Sydney Nursing School and the University of Technology, Sydney.

First, take a moment to put your hand to your heart. Just to the left of your breastbone, a little above the diaphragm. That’s it. The steady beat that has accompanied you every moment of your life. Infinitely precious. Astonishingly strong. But also, vulnerable. More vulnerable than most of us like to think.

Which is why the Heart Foundation is launching a major campaign to alert Australians to the stark reality that, unless we act to protect ourselves and those we love, we risk falling victim to an opportunistic, indiscriminate killer. Heart disease.

Using the central image of a serial killer stalking unsuspecting victims, the campaign reminds us that heart disease is Australia’s number one killer. It urges us to pull together to fight a public enemy that each year claims around 18,500 Australian lives. That’s 51 Australians every day – partners, parents, daughters, sons, friends – who won’t be with us tomorrow.

What is most heartbreaking is that these deaths are often foreseeable and preventable.

Complacency kills

Heart disease is what happens when our arteries get clogged by fatty material called plaque, reducing the blood flow to the heart. Many of its victims will die of a heart attack, which is one form of heart disease. Tens of thousands more will survive but may deal with ongoing health issues.

Only half of Australians surveyed recognise heart disease as Australia’s most deadly.

Even among those who correctly identify it as our primary killer, only half believe heart disease could happen to them. Even fewer (22 per cent) realise it is one of the main causes of death for women (22 women die a day from heart disease).

Risk factors

In fact, most Australians are confused about the biggest risk factors underlying heart disease. Asked what puts a person at risk of a heart attack, 82 per cent focused on lifestyle factors such as poor diet, lack of exercise or high body mass. But one of the most disturbing findings is that only 11 per cent of those surveyed could identify the most serious risks: the silent symptoms of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Yes, death rates may have been dropping now for more than 40 years, but heart disease still accounts for 12 per cent of Australian deaths.

It is with these grim statistics in mind that the Heart Foundation has launched its Serial Killer campaign. Bold and at times confronting, the campaign aims to shake us out of our complacency, alert us to the risks we face and remind us of the warning signs.

Most of all, it hopes to jolt us into action – because (and this is the good news) there are some remarkably simple steps we can each take to protect our heart health and improve our chances of not only surviving but thriving.

Here’s how easy it is

If you’re aged 35 to 75 with no known history of heart disease, you can hop on to the Heart Foundation website and find our new Heart Age Calculator. The online tool will help calculate your individual risk of heart attack or stroke, and then advise you on your next steps.

If you’re 45 or older (35-plus if you’re an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person) and haven’t done so in the last two years, be sure to book in to see your doctor for a heart health check. It won’t take long and can be done as part of a normal check-up.

Then tell a friend. We can never know for sure when a serial killer will strike, or who will be the next victim. But we know that this killer preys on the vulnerable. The better we look after ourselves and the more we support each other, the stronger we are. From that we can all take heart.