Dr Tony Rafter is a leading cardiologist in Brisbane, who I had the pleasure in sharing a coffee with this month. I met with him to find out the latest trends in heart disease at the ‘coal-face’ – what he experiences in dealing with over a 1,000 patients a year. While I knew about “someone in Australia dies every 10 minutes of Cardio-vascular disease” – what I didn’t know was alarming and down-right irresponsible – heart attack survivors are gambling with death – refusing to quit smoking, cut cholesterol or even take preventative medicine.

Each year 5,000 die as a result of failing to take control of their health and its costing the Australian health system $1.4 billion. A damning new study by the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute (an online survey of 1047 patients) finds two in three heart attack survivors struggle to make lifestyle changes. More than one in 10 continue to smoke, 58 per cent don’t eat a healthy diet and just one in three exercise regularly. Four out of 10 heart attack patients don’t follow their GP’s instructions and one in three forget to take their medicine.

Heart attacks are the nation’s biggest killer, claiming the lives of more than 10,000 Australians a year and 5,300 of these are repeat events.

Dr Rafter told me of a 58 yr old patient who went back to drinking and his stressful job and never showed any evidence of dietary change. Seven years later his second heart attack hit that permanently damaged his heart muscle. He survived but can’t work more than 10 hours a week or do many of the things he used to. This episode scared him enough to begin making changes including losing 17kg.

These stories remind me of the saying “most people are willing to change….as long as they can keep on doing exactly what they’ve always done”. It seems that most of us dig in our heels if we believe the mental and physical payoff of change won’t exceed our expectations. We are pulled back to our bad habits like some strange gravitational force. Most of us wait until its too late. An example of natural selection some would say.

The way I see it, change only happens in three ways….either through inspiration, desperation or inclination. It saddens me to think that even after a desperate situation such as a heart attack people aren’t willing to make positive change. In my experience most inspirational change is preceded by a drastic rise in self responsibility – the realisation that if I don’t take charge of my health – who will?

What would you do if faced with change – if your life depended on it?