Decades of neglect and subordination to men’s statistics has pushed women’s heart health to the sidelines of the conversation — Jump In seeks to change that
The University of Ottawa Heart Institute is running an initiative through the month of September to raise awareness for women’s heart health and to raise money for the institute.
Jump In For Women’s Health is a fitness challenge in its second year of operation which asks participants to commit to 30 minutes of physical activity for 30 days. Participants can start anytime in the month of September and registration costs $20.
The objective of the campaign is “to raise awareness of the number one killer of women in the world, and the number one cause of premature death among Canadian women, and that is cardiovascular disease,” said Dr. Thais Coutinho in an interview. Coutinho is chair of the Heart Institute’s Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre, head of prevention and rehabilitation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, and an associate professor of medicine at the U of O.
Many women are not aware of just how prevalent — and deadly — cardiovascular diseases are. According to Dr. Coutinho, heart disease and cardiovascular disease kill five times more women than breast cancer and twice as many women as all cancers combined globally each year.
“Jump In is getting this information out there, not because we want to scare the population, but because we want people to know. Differently from some other diseases, we have the chance to prevent cardiovascular disease in many instances,” said Coutinho.
Dr. Coutinho reported that up to 80 percent of cardiovascular disease is preventable, and exercise is a great way to start.
Lianne Laing spent 20 years working for CTV before leaving to launch a health and wellness brand and podcast and ultimately becoming executive director of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation.
The Jump In initiative began last year as a product of the pandemic, designed to fill the place of the institute’s annual golf tournament fundraiser, but quickly took on a life of its own.
“We went from 144 players in a tournament, to being able to share our messaging to over 2,000 participants, and across the country,” said Laing in an interview.
This year, the initiative has taken on an even greater scope.
“We have almost 100 health and wellness influencers around the country that are doing free workouts, opening up their platforms for people to come and try a HIIT class, yoga, meditation, skipping, a hill climb,” said Laing. “We’re doing interviews … [with] wellness leaders. We’re trying to be able to offer our participants something every day that keeps them motivated to change their lifestyle.”
A spotlight on women’s health
While everyone stands to benefit from practicing a healthier lifestyle, Dr. Coutinho notes that it is important to highlight women’s heart health when the conversation — and the medicine — is usually catered towards male patients.
“Women’s heart health has been historically neglected for decades … the standard of care is based on men’s data, men’s research, and men’s clinical presentations. It can be different in women.”
Complications related to pregnancy, childbirth, and even premature menopause might present risk factors for heart disease in women that never affect men. Dr. Coutinho noted peripartum cardiomyopathy — a type of heart failure that can occur after childbirth — as one example of a heart condition which only affects women.
There are countless such examples where the symptoms or prevalence of a heart condition are different between the sexes. 90 per cent of people with spontaneous coronary artery dissection, a condition that causes a heart attack due to a tear, blister, or bleeding in the wall of a heart artery, are women, and disproportionately between the ages of 30 and 60.
For participants, Jump In is a fun and social way to improve their own health while also contributing to a cause that many hold dear.
Jeannine Ritchot is the assistant deputy minister of communications and portfolio at Natural Resources Canada and a U of O graduate, and a participant in this year’s Jump In campaign. For Jeannine, the discrepancy between the treatment of the sexes in medicine is a key reason why she joined the movement.
“I decided to get involved because frankly, I am appalled by how little attention women’s health issues get,” wrote Ritchot in an email to The Fulcrum. “They are researched less. Diagnosed less. Taken less seriously. Treated less frequently … I want people to take the health of women just as seriously as they take men’s.”
Ritchot’s grandmother died of heart disease, which Ritchot wrote could have been prevented with more information about risks and prevention.
“As a woman, it very much impacts me that the medical establishment has prioritized men’s health over women’s for generations. For the health of current and future generations of women, we need to reverse that trend.”
Dylan Black is the assistant music director and an announcer on Ottawa radio station Boom 99.7, and also works with Rogers TV and YukYuk’s Comedy Club. He said in an interview that the collaboration between Boom 99.7 and Jump In was a natural union.
“It’s an amazing cause, and if it helps out the people that are taking part to stay healthy and motivate others through social media and on-air, it’s just a good fit for us,” said Black.
Black participated in both of the initiatives’ first two years. His father was treated at the Heart Institute prior to his passing.
“The care he received — he was there for almost two and a half months — and the effort that they put in was something else. If it keeps anybody out of the hospital, even a little bit, by my being part of this, then it means a lot to me.”
For Laing and the team of staff and volunteers who have diligently put the initiative together, watching its success and witnessing its lasting impact has been deeply rewarding.
“This has really given me the opportunity to put my passion behind something that is helping the community. I feel like we are making a difference … it’s not just for one person, which would have been enough. But what we’re really proud of at the foundation is that we are shifting so many people’s lives through this. We feel good about what we’re putting out there.”
To learn more about Jump In For Women’s Health, visit jumpinnow.ca.