Experts have linked sitting for long hours to increased risks of high blood pressure and diabetes among the working class.
Dr Dan Gikonyo, a leading cardiologist, says the habit has led to rising cases of heart attacks among young Kenyans.
“This is a new phenomenon that is becoming deadly by the day and the best way to address it is for the working class to have a thorough exercise regime because they spend a great deal of their time sitting down which is not healthy,” he says.
Dr Gikonyo, the founder of Karen Heart Hospital in Nairobi, says that at least one successful open heart surgery is done daily at the facility.
The country has reached a level where cases of heart attacks are as common as any other disease, he says. “We need to take urgent measures because the management of heart attacks is expensive and the government is unable to treat increasing numbers of patients seeking treatment at public hospitals,” he says. “Our answer lies in prevention which we’re capable of doing as individuals.” He warns that the frequency of heart attacks is reaching epidemic levels.
“Coronary heart disease is now common and 55 per cent of Kenyans suffer attacks annually, it is the leading cause of deaths in our public and private hospitals.”
He attributes this to changing lifestyles. “As a young medical student at Kenyatta National Hospital between 1970 and 1980 I only saw two cases of African patients suffering from heart attacks,” notes Dr Gikonyo.
He says Kenyans must be sensitised on the best ways to avoid heart attacks. “It must start from childhood by guiding children to avoid taking too much sugar, salt and siting for long with little exercise.”
Apart from these factors, he attributes the rise of the phenomenon to obesity, cigarette smoking and eating food rich in animal fat.
The medic says that rheumatic heart disease is the commonest heart condition among children. It is a communicable throat infection. “It attacks the immune system and destroys heart valves,” says Dr Gikonyo. Other cardiac defects include holes in the heart. However, while some causes of heart attacks are still a puzzle to medics some are caused by poor maternal behaviour during pregnancy and alcohol consumption.
Other causes of defects in the hearts of infants include smoking by pregnant mothers and viral infections, he says.
According to specialists, the pattern of heart diseases in Kenya has changed compared to the 1960s and 1970s.
In the past major causes of cardiac arrest were diseases caused by throat infections.
However, this is now on the decline mainly because of improved health care, social economic status and nutrition.