[Viewpoint] The heart matters on Valentine’s Day

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[Viewpoint] The heart matters on Valentine’s Day

Feb. 14 is a day for chocolates, roses and love stories.

In the Philippines red roses are sold everywhere, the number symbolizing how much a man loves the woman to whom they are given (three for “I love you” and five for “I love you very much”). In countries such as Korea and Japan, the sentiment is expressed in the chocolates (flowers, too) women give to men. This “red” day turns to “white” a month later with chocolates symbolizing affections when offered by men to the women they love.

But Valentine’s Day should not just be about the so-called matters of the heart: It’s time for it to be about the heart itself. Valentine’s Day should be an day for all of us to look at how we value our hearts.

The World Health Organization has projected that in 2005, 35 million deaths worldwide at all ages resulted from chronic diseases, broken down into heart disease (30 percent), cancer (13 percent), chronic respiratory disease (7 percent), diabetes (2 percent), stroke and others (9 percent). Recent WHO data shows an estimated 17.1 million people died from cardiovascular diseases in 2004, representing 29 percent of all global deaths (with an estimated 7.2 million due to coronary heart disease and 5.7 million of stroke). By 2030, almost 23.6 million people are projected to die from cardiovascular diseases, mainly from heart disease and strokes, which are expected to remain the leading causes of death.

Of the modifiable risk factors of non-communicable diseases, physical inactivity has been reported to contribute to nearly two million deaths globally every year. It doubles the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, colon cancer, breast cancer, hypertension, lipid disorders, osteoporosis, stress, anxiety and depression. The other behavior-related factors are tobacco use, unhealthy diet and excessive alcohol intake.

These behaviors are modifiable. However, without environmental support - policy, economic, sociocultural and physical - intermediate risk factors (hypertension, diabetes, obesity, blood lipids) may set in which could result in complications such as cardiovascular diseases, cancer, stroke and chronic lung diseases.

Recently we have been bombarded with a smorgasbord of prescriptions on diet and exercise. But still the number of cases of non-communicable disease is increasing due to physical inactivity.

Schools in the Philippines still require physical education in the curriculum. But the chances to be physically active there are limited, and fall far short of the basic principles of fitness. Community services for physical activity, especially for the young, are few. Our physical environment doesn’t foster activity: air and noise pollution levels are high; safety measures limit outdoor activities; vendors occupy sidewalks that could be walking paths; there are no bike lanes (a healthier and more affordable form of transportation); we lack well-trained community leaders who could incorporate healthy living while teaching physical skills; and more.

It’s entirely different in Korea. While physical education is not required, especially in the tertiary level, there are many community centers with physical activity programs for all age groups available throughout the year. Affordable private activity centers and gymnasiums are everywhere. The air and terrain encourage physical activity.

However, there are numerous hofs and wine and coffee bars that thrive around the university belts. On top of these are PC rooms and billiard facilities. While we realize that these facilities cater to the social needs of young Koreans, they are literally centers of inactivity. Even high school students go to review centers till late hours.

Feb. 14 should therefore become a celebration of a different sort. Take the example of the Philippines. Since the early 1990s, an annual governmental initiative to make people aware of the importance of exercise in the control and prevention of non-communicable diseases, specifically cardiovascular diseases, was started with the Department of Health and the Office of the President as lead agencies. On this day, mass aerobic exercise demonstrations are held simultaneously, and widely covered by the media. In fact, the Philippines holds the Guinness World Record for the greatest number of people exercising together in 2003.

Following such an effort with the dissemination of effective guidelines for healthy living is easy. Flexible and widespread approaches can be initiated. Recognizing the use of role models and environmental changes that support physical activity are effective ways to further address the issue.

The WHO Healthy Cities approach is very realistic. A number of cities in Korea (like Wonju) show that a healthy lifestyle in this country is a priority. World Health Day 2010 (April 7) will bring worldwide focus to urbanization and health. In 2003, for example, the theme was “Move for Health.”

Whatever the celebration or initiative, action is needed now. For whom does your heart beat? Do you care enough to make it stronger? And how will you accomplish that? Happy Valentine’s Day and an active New Year!

*An active lifestyle can help make sure you’ll be there for the ones you love

by Gilda L. Uy

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