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Last Updated: Sunday, 22 April 2007, 23:18 GMT 00:18 UK
Tap dancing 'saved my life'
By Jane Elliott
Health reporter, BBC News

Joan Armfield
Joan was a professional dancer
Being fit did not stop tap dancing pensioner Joan Armfield having a heart attack.

But it almost certainly saved her life.

The 74-year-old, from Croydon, has been dancing since the age of nine and turned professional at 16.

For the last 40 years she has been running a keep-fit class for women over the age of 50, and 15 years ago she started a tap dancing class for the same age group.

Heart attack

She has always eaten healthily and kept slim, so was shocked when she had her heart attack in 2005.

"I was just coming to the end of my keep-fit class when I started feeling ill and blacked out. I came round to find the paramedics were there.

Keeping fit saved my life
Joan Armfield

"I just kept passing out. They got me to hospital and I was told I had a heart attack. I almost said 'are you sure?'

"I thought it must have been a very slight one, but the doctor said although he didn't want to frighten me, it had been very serious.

"He said that, had I not been so fit, things could have been very different. Keeping fit saved my life."

Joan was in hospital for two weeks while she was assessed and was then given a triple heart bypass operation to unblock her arteries.

She was also given medication to reduce her cholesterol, which doctors felt had been too high.

Just three months later she was performing again with her dance troupe, aged from 59-74.

The dancers
Joan and her dance troupe

Joan was fit. But statistics from the British Heart Foundation (BHF) reveal that every 15 minutes someone dies as a direct result of heart problems caused by physical inactivity - even though just 30 minutes of activity each day has been shown to help stave off heart disease and other problems.

A new YouGov poll of just under 1,200 people aged 50-65 shows almost a third of people asked give lack of time as a reason for their inactivity.

Three out of four say they would choose a sedentary activity such as using their computer, watching TV or reading if they had a spare 30 minutes in the day.

So the BHF has produced a light-hearted billboard advertisement showing combinations of everyday ways to be active such as washing the car, gardening or swimming - urging the 50s or over to get active.

Dr Mike Knapton, director of prevention and care at the BHF, said: "It's an alarming thought that inactivity kills someone in the UK every 15 minutes.

"These deaths are avoidable and the solution is simple and achievable.

BHF advert
The BHF is promoting ways of keeping active

"We can all make excuses, but at the end of the day it's up to individuals to make the change, to get up and to get active.

"Just 30 minutes a day can make all the difference, and it can be fun!"

"Keeping fit doesn't have to mean sweating it out at the gym and it's never too late to start."

As part of the campaign, the BHF is sending 2.5 million leaflets to households across the UK and the campaign poster will go up on over 2,000 billboards.

MPs will be presented with a policy 'blueprint' outlining the challenges and recommended targets at the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday.

And the BHF want ministers to run campaigns to get over 50s active; doctors to routinely refer patients to physical activity programmes, local authorities to build safe and 'walkable' towns, businesses to invest in activity schemes for older staff and the fitness industry and sports clubs to run sessions for over 50s.

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