We are living longer but lifestyles threaten health gains

By June Shannon Heart News   |   9th Jan 2019

Lifestyle issues such as obesity, smoking and inactivity threaten health advances

Improved rates of survival from heart disease and cancer among older people in Ireland is leading to increased life expectancy however, lifestyle issues such as smoking, drinking, inactivity and obesity may jeopardise these advances a new report has found.

According to the 2018 edition of ‘Health in Ireland: Key Trends’, which provides information on health and healthcare in Ireland over the past ten years, male life expectancy in Ireland has increased by three years and female life expectancy by almost two since 2006.

“This improvement is largely due to lower mortality and better survival from conditions such as heart disease and cancer affecting older age groups,” the report stated.

According to the report, death rates for cancers and diseases of the circulatory system such as heart disease and stroke, the major causes of deaths in Ireland, have declined by 11 per cent and 32 per cent respectively over the past ten years.

Lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking, levels of physical activity and obesity continue to be issues which have the potential to jeopardise many of the health gains achieved in recent years

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However, the report warned that “lifestyle factors such as smoking, drinking, levels of physical activity and obesity continue to be issues which have the potential to jeopardise many of the health gains achieved in recent years.”

The report found that almost three times as many men as women reported binge drinking on a typical day of drinking and almost 10 per cent of smokers in all age groups reported bad or very bad oral health, except for 15-24-year olds, where 5 per cent reported bad or very bad oral health.

Smoking is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke. One in every two smokers will die of a tobacco-related disease.

Stopping smoking is the single most important step you can take to live longer, and it greatly reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Excessive alcohol consumption can badly affect heart health as it can increase the heart rate and blood pressure while its calorie content also contributes to weight gain.

Alcohol also increases the chance of developing cardiac arrhythmias (atrial fibrillation). This is in addition to all the other deleterious effects alcohol has on our health including an increased risk of some cancers.

"Eighty per cent of premature heart disease and stroke is preventable so a major focus for the Irish Heart Foundation’s work is supporting those in communities, schools and workplaces to lead healthier lives,”

Janis Morrisey, Head of Health Promotion and Training, Irish Heart Foundation

The Health in Ireland: Key Trends 2018 report also looked at the efficiency of Ireland’s public health system and highlighted four main chronic conditions which it stated, “could be more appropriately treated in a primary care setting or prevented with early primary care interventions, therefore reducing strain on hospital inpatient resources.”

The OECD has noted these four conditions – chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, hypertension and heart failure – to be particularly relevant in the European context as conditions which would benefit from improved primary care alternatives to hospital admission. According to the report, these conditions account for over 150,000 bed days used each year, and since 2011 this rate has been increasing.

Commenting on the report Janis Morrissey, Head of Health Promotion and Training at the Irish Heart Foundation said, “It is encouraging to see a decline in the rates of death from heart disease and stroke but of serious concern is the risk that these trends could be reversed by lifestyle factors such as low physical activity levels. Eighty per cent of premature heart disease and stroke is preventable so a major focus for the Irish Heart Foundation’s work is supporting those in communities, schools and workplaces to lead healthier lives.”

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alcohol cardiovascular disease healthy living heart attack heart disease inactivity life expectancy Obesity quit smoking smoking stroke

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