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Teaching South Africa to love their hearts

September 29 is World Heart Day.

To mark the day this year -- and South Africans to learn to love their hearts -- the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa is launching the first World Heart Day Fun Walk.

The foundation has paired up with the Department of Cardiology at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital for the walk which has a 5km option and a 8km one It will take place on Sunday September 30 and is set to be an annual event on the calendar.

In the run up to the big event, the foundation paired up with the National Council Against Smoking and took to Wits University to help students understand how they could keep their hearts healthy.

Students were encouraged drink less alcohol, stop smoking or cut down, eat more fruit and vegetables, exercise more and reduce their stress levels. They then made a pledge which they stuck on the pillars of Wits' famous Great Hall.

Cardiovascular disease is still the world’s number one killer, claiming nearly 17, 7 million lives every year.

Professor Pamela Naidoo, chief executive of the Heart and Stroke Foundation explains the need to educate young people about heart health."The burden on middle and low-income countries has never been greater. In South Africa, the death rate for heart disease and stroke follows HIV and AIDS. In fact of the 43% of all deaths in South Africa which is as a result of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), 18% is due to cardiovascular disease."

Tobacco smoking triples the risk of a person having a heart attack and doubles the risk of a person having a stroke. Globally one in eights deaths are tobacco related. In South Africa one in every five deaths are caused by cardiovascular disease, amounting to about 82 000 people each year.

The 37% of men and 7% of women who smoke are increasing their risk of developing cardiovascular disease substantially. In addition, those affected by second hand smoke are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease as well.

Hypertension -- or raised blood pressure -- is related to 13% of all deaths globally and is prevalent in one in three adults in South Africa. Often described as the “silent killer”, it is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke as 50% of people don't know they are hypertensive.

Many students at the university confessed that they had challenges with smoking, doing too little exercise and having high levels of stress.

"Every time I try to quit smoking for three or so months I end up going back because I am so stressed and its the only way that I can relieve myself," said one 24-year-old journalism student.

"I started smoking on campus because cigarettes were cheap," said another student who admitted to smoking a pack of cigarettes over two days.

* The walk on Sunday starts at 7am at the Bizolli Sports Complex, Wits east campus, off Empire Road in Parktown.Late entries and collections of race numbers can be done at the venue or via The Sweat Shop in Dunkeld or Fourways, until September 29.

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