June 18, 2024

Unblocking the barriers that stand in the way of better cardiovascular health

4 min read

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) remains a significant global health concern, contributing to almost a third of all globally reported deaths annually, which amounts to approximately 18 million deaths. 

In the pursuit of better heart health, it’s important to distinguish between fact and myth, to be aware of common CVD symptoms, and to understand what places your heart at risk of serious illness.

In response, global pharmaceutical company Novartis has launched the Unblocked movement. Dr Darren Katzman, head of Medical Affairs at Novartis South Africa, explains this initiative that promotes healthcare.

The Unblocked Challenge (2.0), which officially kicked off on 1 September, aims to unite Novartis associates, patient communities, healthcare professionals and systems to ‘unblock’ the barriers that stand in the way of better cardiovascular health. 

Equally important is the comprehension of the factors that predispose individuals to an elevated risk of severe heart-related illnesses. While genetics can play a role, lifestyle factors such as smoking, poor dietary choices, sedentary habits, obesity and unmanaged stress contribute significantly to CVD risk. Understanding these risk factors empowers individuals to adopt healthier behaviours, make necessary lifestyle modifications, and engage in preventive healthcare measures.

In support of World Heart Day on 29 September, the Unblocked initiative aims to promote increased physical activity among Novartis associates and externally, across broader communities. Physical activity is one of Life’s Essential 8, according to the American Heart Association. “We therefore want to encourage individuals to be more aware and track their physical activities, whether it be walking, running, cycling or yoga. Associates will be encouraged to join teams and share their activities with their colleagues, friends and families on the GoJoe platform, creating an encouraging environment for all, and sparking some friendly competition for those interested in taking the Unblocked title,” explains Dr Katzman.

“Although the challenge is set to run for only a defined period, we hope the message behind this initiative will remain with every participant indefinitely. By knowing the factors that contribute to CVD, each one of us can take action to lower our risk and improve our heart health.”  

Separating the facts from the myths

Dispelling misconceptions, disseminating facts and raising awareness about CVD can lead to better prevention, early detection and more effective management. In response, Novartis South Africa has sought to debunk a few key myths:

Myth: Heart disease is a man’s problem.

CVD is often mistakenly associated with men, but it poses a significant threat to women’s health as well. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women globally. Women may experience slightly different symptoms than men, such as nausea and fatigue, which can lead to underdiagnosis and delayed treatment.

Myth: If heart disease runs in my family, there’s nothing I can do.

While genetics can play a role in predisposing people to CVD, this is not a certainty. Lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise and avoiding tobacco use can have a significant impact on heart health. But, if a person has a history of heart disease in their family, it’s even more important to make healthy choices to mitigate risk.

Myth: Only overweight or obese people are at risk for CVD.

Being overweight or obese is an important risk factor for CVD, but it’s not the only factor. People of all body types can develop heart disease if they have other risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoke regularly, or live a sedentary lifestyle. Maintaining a healthy weight is important, but addressing other risk factors is equally important.

Minimising risk factors

Maintaining good cardiovascular health requires awareness and a cautious approach to understanding and managing the associated risk factors.

One of the most effective ways to reduce the risk of CVD is by embracing a heart-healthy lifestyle. This involves making conscious choices that promote overall well-being and protect the cardiovascular system.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, proteins and healthy fats provides essential nutrients that support heart health. Equally important is to minimise the consumption of processed foods, sugary foods and beverages, and excessive amounts of salt.

Furthermore, regular medical check-ups are not only for diagnosing existing health issues, but also for identifying potential risk factors. High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and diabetes are silent threats that often go unnoticed without medical evaluation. By scheduling routine check-ups, you increase the likelihood of early detection and timely intervention.

Regular and open communication with healthcare providers is essential for staying informed about personal cardiovascular health. Discussing concerns, sharing any changes in health, and seeking guidance on maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle could considerably lower a person’s risk.

“CVD is often preventable and manageable, if action is taken early. Through the Unblocked challenge, Novartis hopes to raise awareness of CVD and motivate people to become active and safeguard their heart health,” says Dr Katzman. 

“This initiative is more than a fitness challenge. It aims to promote meaningful lifestyle changes and motivate colleagues, friends and families to prioritise their own heart health. Our hope is that this event sparks interest in heart health and drives continued discussion on this topic throughout our organisation and the rest of South Africa.”

Leave a Reply