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Tuesday, 21 November, 2000, 10:25 GMT
Couch potato women risk heart disease
Exercise
Exercise can ward off heart disease
Shock statistics show that almost two out of five deaths from heart disease in women are due to lack of exercise.

For the first time the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has published findings which estimate the true extent of heart disease risk.

They confirm that stress at work and depression, as well as physical inactivity and poor diet are major factors.

But the extent to which a sedentary lifestyle in women contributes to heart disease deaths has surprised many.

The BHF estimates that coronary heart disease now costs the NHS 1.6bn a year to treat and costs the UK economy around 10bn.

The organisation's statistics for 2000 indicate that work stress - which affects at least one third of men and women - as well as depression are closely linked to development of coronary heart disease.

Yet, in trying to relieve their stress and depression, people often make things worse.

Coping mechanisms

Professor Andrew Stepped, appointed to the BHF to look at the effects of stress said: "Cigarette smoking, alcohol, high fat "comfort foods" and inactive pastimes, such as watching TV, are some of the coping mechanisms that people employ to relieve stress.

"And unfortunately these are all risk factors that can increase the risk for heart disease massively."

In its latest report the BHF has quantified the risk of developing heart disease because of different lifestyle factors.

It shows that:

  • 38% of coronary heart disease deaths in women are associated with physical inactivity
  • 47% of coronary heart disease deaths in women are linked to high cholesterol
  • 6% of coronary heart disease deaths in women are caused by obesity
  • 20% of coronary heart disease deaths in men are due to smoking
  • 16% of coronary heart disease deaths in men are due to high blood pressure.

A BHF spokeswoman said that women, in particular, need to make lifestyle changes that will make them healthier.

"Just rushing around all day isn't enough. We're not telling people they have to start playing squash but just walking to and from the station can give you the half hour of daily exercise you need."

The habit of inactivity is picked up early by girls, she said, while boys are more likely to be involved in active games like football.

Simple things

The Health Development Agency has been analysing some of the interventions that work to lower heart disease risk.

Head of public health advice Karen Ford said: "It's about simple things like walking and cycling that don't require a huge lifestyle change.

"Exercise prescription schemes are all very well but in terms of value for money and something people can commit to, straightforward advice on doing a bit of walking is better."

But it appears people are still slow to act on advice on ways to lower their risk.

It's about simple things like walking and cycling that don't require a huge lifestyle change.

Karen Ford, Health Development Agency

Although everyone is advised to eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day the latest figures show that only 14% of children aged between two and 15 eat vegetables once a day and only 18% eat fruit.

According to the BHF, the figure among children in lower income families is "shockingly low".

But Karen Ford is hopeful that initiatives such as the fruit for schools schemes and setting up farmer's markets in deprived areas will improve the picture.

"We have to look at what's working and what isn't and listening to what people want and improving access to the right food and exercise is important," she added.

See also:

21 Nov 00 | Health
14 Nov 00 | Health
15 Nov 00 | Health
10 Oct 00 | Health
23 Jun 00 | G-I
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