In 1970 Finland had the highest rate of heart disease in the world. After the ravages of the Winter War with the Soviets ended in 1945 the population celebrated the end of their starvation and suffering by adopting a classical modern lifestyle.
In the north east of Finland there was a region that was particularly affected by the heart disease epidemic. Virtually all of the 180,000 residents of North Karelia had or were developing heart disease. And it was due to the new lifestyle they had adopted, which had some serious issues.
The 4 Major Lifestyle Issues
- Food: Karelians had a dreadful diet high in meat and animal products with virtually no fruit or vegetables.
- Mind: Levels of motivation and drive were low with high levels of depression and anxiety. A huge number were addicted to smoking.
- Body:Levels of exercise were very low with a move from traditional lumber jacking and dairy farming to sedentary jobs.
- Place: Long, dark winters of social isolation, high levels of unemployment, poverty and poor health facilities dominated the region.
North Karelia needed help so in a quite remarkable move the citizens petitioned the National Government. The Government responded with an organised project of change led by a young Doctor called Pekka Puska.
Puska led a team of enthusiastic workers into a co-ordinated community based project essentially inducing systematic change in all 4 pillars.
How They Tackled The 4 Issues
- Food: Puska provided education programs at health centers, schools and supermarkets targeting food choices and food availability. He persuaded local food producers and farmers to change their practices, supporting a plant rich, whole food diet. And he introduced free healthy school lunches.
- Mind: Fun returned to Karella as community spirit rose and motivation to change lifted. Habits were challenged and altered with the introduction of programs for stress and addiction, particularly smoking.
- Body: Sports halls, swimming pools and ice skating rinks were built or revitalised to promote exercise. Walking paths cleared, bike paths developed and even free snow shoes for the elderly to get them walking in winter.
- Place: The project specifically wanted to get everyone involved. Regular town meetings rallied community spirit, so much so that competition started between villages as to which could lower their cholesterol or blood pressure the most.
The Changes Had Some Surprising Effects
Rates of heart disease plummeted by more than 70%, but the rates of stroke and the incidence of cancer dropped dramatically too. As a result, life expectancy increased by 7 years for men and 6 years for women.
The results were so dramatic that in 1977, the Finnish Government decided to apply the policies of the Karelia project nationwide. The results were equally dramatic with a 65% reduction in Heart disease alone.
If you are into statistics or graphs, please take a look at the data below which may convince you of the astonishing changes that lifestyle can make. All this and not a single pill, potion or gadget in sight!
If you are looking to lose weight, if you want to reduce your risk of developing disease, if you want to control or reverse an existing disease or if you simply want the best possible health for yourself look to your lifestyle.
Perhaps one person changed their life with Apple Cider Vinegar but 180,000 people in North Karelia and 5.4 million people in Finland have shown us a much better way.
N.B. As a consequence of his amazing achievements, Pekka Puska would go on to become Director of non-communicable disease prevention with the World Health Organisation.