Many Canadians believe they don't have enough time to exercise or eat healthy meals, the Heart and Stroke Foundation says.

The charity commissioned an online survey released Tuesday that suggests most Canadians know heart disease and stroke can be fought by making healthy choices. Yet almost half of the survey respondents said they don't have enough time to be active or eat healthier meals. 

Arul Myles Mylvaganam of Richmond Hill, Ont., was one of the Canadians who felt too busy to cook. The real estate agent used to eat most of his meals in his vehicle, starting with five cups of coffee a day with cream and sugar. 

Then five years ago, he felt severe pain in his chest and knew he had to get to a hospital.

"I told her if you don't bring me now, you won't see me again," Mylvagadam recalled with his voice breaking. "If not for my wife, I don't think I'd be alive today." 

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Heart patient Arul Myles Mylvaganam started eating better after feeling severe chest pain. (CBC)

The survey pointed to a disconnect between what Canadians know they need to do to protect themselves from heart disease and stroke and what they're actually doing, said Dr. Beth Abramson, a cardiologist and a spokesperson with the foundation.

Nearly half of respondents in the online survey of 2,160 Canadian adults conducted in October used time as an excuse for being unhealthy:

  • 44% of respondents said they had no time for regular physical activity.
  • 41% said healthy meals take too long to prepare.
  • More than half (51%) said fast food outlets don't have enough healthy choices.
  • And almost a third (31%) said the time they would like to spend being active they instead spend commuting.  

The Heart and Stroke Foundation says that finding time is critical for Canadians because heart disease and stroke kills one in three Canadians and is the leading killer of women.

Foundation urges less TV

The foundation says that Canadians who believe there isn't enough time to live healthy are wrong. While acknowledging the time crunch in people's lives, a foundation news release notes that Statistics Canada has said 29 per cent of Canadians over 20 spend two hours a day or more watching television, and 15 per cent spend at least 1.5 hours a day of their leisure time on computers.

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"We're exercising our brains and our thumbs in today's society, but we need to be exercising our bodies and we need to have that balance in terms of screen time, as they say, and getting out there and being active," Abramson said.

Canadians can improve their health and extend their lives by getting 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise weekly, Abramson said, noting that that the exercise can be done in 10-minute increments.

The charity said Canadians' ability to afford healthy food is a real problem, however.

It argues that government, industry or non-governmental organizations need to help low-income Canadians get access to healthy food choices, make fruits and vegetables more affordable, and provide more stores with healthy food options. 

The foundation recently launched a new campaign called Make Death Wait that is encouraging people to log one million healthy actions on its website by the end of February 2012.

"We can reduce heart disease and stroke by up to 40 per cent by making lifestyle changes," Abramson said. "What seems to be a very small, small intervention in your very busy day can actually have a significant impact in your risk for heart and stroke [disease]."

For Mylvaganam, the heart attack was a wake-up call. Since then, he said he makes time to eat better.

With files from CBC's Lorenda Reddekopp