Titled Reality Check, the 2013 Report on the Health of Canadians states that on average, there is a 10-year gap between how long Canadians live and how long they live in health -- a gap largely caused by heart disease, stroke and other chronic conditions.
“We find that baby boomers plan so much financially for their retirement and for their last years in life -- they have all these great aspirations, whether it’s to travel, see the world, be active grandparents, maybe become snowbirds and try and avoid these harsh Saskatchewan winters and go down south,” the foundation’s director of health, policy and research Lesley James said.
“But their actions right now are preventing them from potentially taking part in these great aspirations later in life. So we really want people to take action now, make those changes, so they aren’t burdened with disease in the last 10 years of their life.”
The Heart and Stroke Foundation typically releases its report on Canadian health each year in conjunction with a public awareness campaign.
While last year’s campaign, Make Death Wait, outlined the negative consequences of poor lifestyle choices, this year’s followup is called Make Health Last and focuses more on prevention.
“Last year we raised awareness about the effects of dying prematurely from heart disease and stroke, and this year we’re talking about how you can change that,” James said. “And I think boomers are at that age where there’s still a lot of potential to make changes.”
According to the new report, there is a large gap between the 80 per cent of Canadian boomers who think their doctors would rate them as healthy and the reality of their self-reported lifestyle choices.
A whopping 85 per cent of boomers report not eating enough fruits and vegetables. More than 40 per cent are not getting enough physical exercise. One in five (21 per cent) smoke, one in 10 (11 per cent) are heavy drinkers and 30 per cent said they often or always feel stressed.
The figures for Saskatchewan and rural communities are often worse than the national average, with 92 per cent of the province’s boomers reporting insufficient fruit and vegetable consumption.
“Much of our population is in rural and remote communities, and with that there isn’t as much access to fruits and vegetables or to safe walking routes and things like that,” James said.
We really want people to take action now, make those changes, so they aren’t burdened with disease in the last 10 years of their life. - Lesley James
“Heart and Stroke is actually a big advocate working with municipalities from across the province and making sure that municipal leadership is aware of the need to support a healthy environment, so that Saskatchewan residents can be healthy and take those walks and walk to work or kind of avoid using the car as much as possible.”
As part of the Make Health Last campaign, the Heart and Stroke Foundation has created a website, www.makehealthlast.ca, where Canadians can fill out a risk assessment and find ways they can improve their lifestyles.
The campaign identifies five ways Canadians can shrink the 10-year gap between living long and living long with health: Increasing physical activity, eating a healthier diet, avoiding stress, quitting smoking and lowering alcohol consumption.
Incorporating those changes into one’s lifestyle can be easier than you might think.
“The Heart and Stroke recommends 150 minutes of physical activity every week,” James said. “It sounds like a lot, but there’s little things you can do.
“I take the stairs instead of taking the escalator. I park further away from the grocery store, the mall, and walk a little bit further. It’s difficult in the winter, obviously, but every little bit adds up. So 10 minutes even here and there adds up, and you can reach 150 really easily.”
Although the report focused on baby boomers, they are by no means the only demographic at risk. The foundation reports that nine in 10 Canadians have at least one risk factor for heart disease and stroke.
Regardless of age, James noted that there is never a bad time to transition to a healthier lifestyle.
“It’s never, never too late,” she said. “If you quit smoking now, one year from now, your risk of dying from heart disease and stroke is reduced by half. Taking action in any of the five areas, whether it’s physical activity, improved nutrition, tobacco, decreasing stress or avoiding alcohol, all of them will make a huge difference and your body will be very thankful later on.
“You’ll see improvements right away, but you’ll also have a better quality of life in the long term.”