Mental illness, diet and physical activity targeted in new heart disease research

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The prevention of mental illness in people with heart disease and strategies to improve diet and physical activity among Australian men at risk of poor heart health will be explored in two $1 million research grants awarded by the Heart Foundation.

Heart Foundation Group CEO and chief medical adviser, cardiologist Professor Garry Jennings, said, “These are incredibly exciting projects that address some of the most vital areas of heart, stroke and vascular disease in Australia.

“But importantly, they aim to have a direct and positive impact on the millions of Australians living with or at risk of these conditions.

“The grant recipients and their investigator teams consist of some of the best and brightest researchers in Australia who aim to bridge the gap between research and clinical practice to directly benefit people’s heart health.”

The Mental Health and Heart Disease Strategic Grant has been awarded to Professor Andrew Boyle, the head of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Newcastle.

A cardiologist and researcher, Professor Boyle’s grant will investigate whether a novel well-being app can reduce depression in patients discharged from hospital with acute heart failure.

One Australian is admitted to hospital with heart failure every eight minutes and eight people die from heart failure every day. Depression is prevalent among patients with heart disease, the major cause of heart failure in Australia, and is associated with an increased risk of hospitalisation and death.

As part of Professor Boyle’s grant program, patients will be prompted to monitor their health and symptoms of depression via an app, with this data being monitored in real-time by patients’ cardiac teams who will respond if high-risk information is recorded.

The app will provide patients with tailored advice to manage their heart failure while allowing health professionals to prioritise and respond quickly to urgent mental health needs when they arise.

The Behaviour Change Strategic Grant exploring strategies to improve diet and physical activity to reduce heart disease was awarded to Associate Professor Eleanor Quested from Curtin University’s enAble Institute and School of Population Health.

Associate Professor Quested’s grant will scale-up a successful program called Aussie Fans in Training (Aussie-FIT), which uses the appeal of professional sport, including Aussie rules, to engage men and support them to adopt healthier lifestyle habits.

Pilots of the Aussie-FIT program in WA found it attracted men living with overweight or obesity and men with heart disease and shows promise as an approach to support men to make and maintain changes to their physical activity levels, eating behaviours, weight, and well-being.

Unhealthy diets and insufficient physical activity are major contributors to heart disease and poor health in Australia. Three quarters of Australian men (74.5 per cent) are considered to be living with overweight or obesity and only 1 in 5 men (19 per cent) over the age of 18 do enough physical activity for good health. 

Associate Professor Quested’s team will investigate the long-term impact of the Aussie-FIT program on heart health by undertaking research with a larger group of men and conducting longer follow-up, with the possible expansion of the program for different populations, including Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander men.