Exercising for heart health

Heidi Harty-Eugster’s ten-year-old daughter Coco ran alongside her mum at the Jennian Mother’s Day Run/Walk event in Christchurch on Sunday 12 May, as the pair helped to raise awareness about women’s heart health.

Heidi and coco exercising

Heart health is a topic very important to 38-year-old Heidi, after she had a heart transplant last year.

As a child, she was diagnosed with a condition that causes the heart muscle to become abnormally thick – a genetic condition she shared with her dad and other family members. She also experienced abnormal heart rhythms.

Heidi had open heart surgery twice by the age of 18 and a defibrillator was implanted in her chest in her early 20s after she experienced a cardiac arrest while biking to work. In her 30s, following another open-heart surgery to repair a leaky valve and various cardioversion procedures to restore a normal heart rhythm, Heidi was told a transplant was her only option for survival.

“By then I couldn’t walk 50 metres without having to stop and rest, and got breathless just eating and talking.”

Incredibly grateful to her donor, Heidi has since been building up her strength and taking part in regular active events as well as going to the gym.

She is happy to be an advocate for raising people’s awareness about women’s heart health as she believes there are a number of misconceptions floating around.

“Many people still think a heart attack is more likely to happen to an old man…but this isn’t so. Unfortunately, women don’t tend to speak about it or ignore symptoms. We just can’t take our heart health for granted.”

The importance of exercise

One of the lessons Heidi is keen to impart to her daughter and other women of all ages is the need to keep active.

“So many of us have very sedentary jobs, everything is automated and we can go into the office and not move from our desks for hours…the heart is a muscle, and like every muscle it needs to be exercised to keep it strong and healthy.”

“To be able to exercise is a privilege that not everyone has. So let’s get moving!”

On Mother’s Day, Sunday 12 May, Heidi, alongside her ten-year-old daughter Coco took part in the annual Jennian Mother’s Day event that was held in 26 locations around the country.

“I am so chuffed to have been able to run 5km with my daughter Coco and husband Chris, I will be forever grateful to my donor and their family. It’s such a privilege to be able to exercise, I think this can be taken for granted. If we can exercise, we should, our hearts will thank us and it will help prevent issues later on.”

She says she’s not a natural runner, describing herself as “slow and steady”.

“It’s easy to put up road blocks as to why you can’t go out for a run or a walk… yes, there can be a bit of pain as you start out, but the feel-good factor at the end is fantastic.”

Jennian's ongoing support

With heart disease claiming twice as many lives of Kiwi women than any other single cause (more than 3,000 women die every year), Jennian is helping to raise awareness of women’s heart health and help stop women dying prematurely from heart disease.

The annual 5km event, held every year in May, encourages New Zealand women of all ages to spend quality time on Mother’s Day getting some exercise and loving their hearts.

Jennian Homes Chief Operating Officer Aidan Jury says the company is a proud supporter of the Heart Foundation’s work, including being a major sponsor of the Heart Foundation Lottery and organising the Mother’s Day events around the country.

“Sadly, so many Kiwi families have their lives significantly changed due to heart health issues. If through funding valuable heart research, we can help more families stay together then we have done our job,” he says.

“We encourage people around the country to gather their family on Mother’s Day and join Jennian and the Heart Foundation for this great cause.”

Heart Foundation Medical Director Dr Gerry Devlin says the charity is very grateful for the long-term partnership it has with Jennian and for its support of raising awareness about women’s heart health.

“Heart disease is the single biggest cause of death for women in New Zealand, but many people are unaware of these statistics because they believe it to be a 'man's disease',” says Dr Devlin.

“Nearly two-thirds of deaths from heart attacks in women occur among those who have no history of chest pain. Unfortunately, women also tend to wait longer than men to call for an ambulance after experiencing heart attack warning signs.”

Keep a look out on the Jennian Mother's Day website for the event happening in your location in 2020.

Read about heart disease in women