HEART disease continues to be the single leading cause of death in Australia, and in Bellingen Shire, we face particular challenges, with higher than average rates of obesity and inactivity.
Fresh Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows heart disease claimed the lives of 17,533 Australians in 2018, or around 48 every day.
In Bellingen Shire, the numbers show we are about on average with the national norm for things like smoking and high cholesterol - known heart disease risk factors.
Interestingly, we're better than the average for high blood pressure - perhaps due to a more laid-back lifestyle?
But 72 per cent of us are classed as physically inactive, and although this isn't much above the national average of 66 per cent, it's still a whopping figure.
Now the bad news - we are on the wrong end of the scale when it comes to obesity - 37 per cent of the population compared to the national average of 28 per cent.
In response to the latest data, the Heart Foundation is encouraging people to improve their own heart health by signing up for its MyMarathon challenge, which will run throughout October.
MyMarathon allows participants to conquer a marathon at their own pace and in any place, while also raising money to tackle heart disease.
Participants will have this month to run, jog, walk, cycle or wheel the distance of a marathon (42.2 kilometres), which equates to around 1.4 kilometres a day if you started on October 1. If you start the challenge today, it works out at about 2km per day.
People have many different motivations for signing up to do MyMarathon, but for Julie and Clarisa Wiggins, the reason is deeply personal and painful.
On August 26 last year, Julie and her husband, Peter, were enjoying a typical Sunday afternoon with their 18-year-old daughter, Clarisa, at their home on a farm about 78 kilometres north of Swan Hill, Victoria.
In the lounge room, Clarisa was chatting with Peter about her plans to attend university in Melbourne the following year when he got up to go to the kitchen.
Clarisa heard a loud noise from the kitchen. When she went to investigate it, Clarisa found her father clutching his chest and falling to the ground. Peter had suffered a cardiac arrest, in which the heart stops beating.
With the help of a Triple Zero call taker, Julie performed CPR. Clarisa called neighbours, who also helped with CPR until an ambulance arrived.
Peter was transferred to a hospital in Melbourne, where he passed away six days later at the age of just 55.
"It happened so quickly and there was no warning," Julie said. "Apart from being a few kilos overweight, Peter was fit and healthy. Some days I still can't believe it."
According to the Heart Foundation, a population snapshot of Bellingen Shire puts us roughly in the middle of the relatively disadvantaged - advantaged scale.
On a scale of 1-5, where 1 is most disadvantaged, we are at 3.
Disadvantage, Indigenous status and low educational attainment are all associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
Take the challenge
MyMarathon is open to people of all fitness levels and ages. Location is no barrier as thousands of people have already registered from every state and territory across Australia, including regional and remote areas. Last year, Australians working in Antarctica did MyMarathon.
Heart Foundation director of Active Living, Adjunct Professor Trevor Shilton, said you don't need to be an elite athlete to conquer MyMarathon.
"Just about anyone can get involved, no matter what your age, location, background or fitness level. You decide the pace and you decide the place," Prof Shilton said.
"In addition to ticking 'do a marathon' off your bucket list, your heart will thank you for taking part. Regular physical activity helps to keep your heart strong and healthy, while also contributing to your broader physical and mental health."
MyMarathon participants are encouraged to ask family, friends and colleagues to sponsor their efforts.
You will find helpful resources, along with everything you need to know about registering, participating and fundraising, at the MyMarathon (www.mymarathon.com.au/) website.