The good news, according to a recent report by the Heart and Stroke foundation, is that more people are surviving heart attacks and strokes than ever before. The bad news, the report reads, is that many struggle to making lasting health changes after the fact.
The report notes that survival rates have risen more than 75 per cent over the last 60 years. More than 90 per cent of Canadians who have a heart attack and more than 80 per cent who have a stroke and make it to hospital will now survive.
But the risk of heart disease and stroke is still staggering, the report says.
"There are still 350,000 hospitalizations annually due to heart disease and stroke in Canada," it reads. "Each year about 50,000 new cases of heart failure are diagnosed, 70,000 heart attacks occur, and 50,000 strokes send Canadians to emergency rooms across the country."
The Heart and Stroke foundation also carried out a poll of more than 2,000 heart attack and stroke survivors and their families. It found that while 7 of 10 survivors felt their health had improved since the event, when it came to specific life changes they needed to make (like quitting smoking or losing weight) more than half failed to achieve those goals. Others never even tried.
"A lot of it [has to do with] environmental support. We don't make healthy choices easy choices," explained Stephanie Lawrence, senior manager of communications for the Heart and Stroke Foundation.
She said people face a lot of barriers when it comes to achieving health goals including lack of motivation, anxiety, depression, money and weather.
"One of our jobs is to drill down to those barriers so we can find ways to overcome them," Lawrence said.
One way to overcome those barriers, the report suggests, is through rehabilitation programs. The programs are designed to help survivors and their families identify, break down and reach their health goals to prevent future problems. The report indicates that rehab programs lower the mortality rate of survivors by 25 per cent. But not many patients are able to access these programs: only one-third of patients eligible for rehabilitation programs are referred to them.
"It's [because of] distance, lack of space and long waiting lists," explained Michael McGillion, the Heart and Stroke Foundation Michael G. DeGroote endowed chair in cardiovascular nursing research at McMaster University.
"We need more support because as more people survive, these programs are going to be in high demand."
McGillion also said families play a key role in a survivor's recovery.
"There are a number of partners in seeing a patient through to success."
The report also highlights the importance of taking preventative steps to ensure a healthy heart. The Heart and Stoke Foundation recommends that everybody be physically active for at least 30 minutes most days of the week, follow healthy eating recommendations in Canada's Food Guide, be smoke-free, limit alcohol consumption and manage stress.