News & Features

Reflections on the Bhangra community engagement program

October 11, 2017

Iris Lesser won the Engagement Award during the 2015 SFU Student Community Engagement Competition for her Bhangra in the Park proposal, a project inspired by her doctoral work at SFU. The SFU Student Community Engagement Competition asked Iris to reflect on her experiences to inspire other students to create meaningful social change:

Why did you apply for the SFU Student-Community Engagement Competition?

Exercise and health have always been important to me. As part of my doctoral work at Simon Fraser University, I conducted a research intervention using Bhangra to engage South Asian women in exercise to improve heart health. After completing my research, I began to feel that it was necessary to continue to offer this exercise opportunity to the public. That’s when I applied to the SFU Student-Community Engagement competition.

After all, exercise is not a temporary solution but a lifelong commitment, and I wanted to see my research participants continue to improve their health while engaging with their community.

What has been your biggest challenges working through your project?

While I was very pleased to receive access to space in the mall to run this program, it was fraught with challenges. Engaging in an exercise program, especially one that relies on music and an instructor, requires a mentally stimulating space that participants feel comfortable and excited to come to. Unfortunately, without access to studio space and due to security requirements, our program space was not an ideal setting for high impact exercise and it wasn’t a mentally stimulating environment.

In addition, this type of program is highly dependent on the instructor and their ability to engage participants. So, when we experienced an unplanned instructor change, mid-session, it affected some of the excitement that program participants were beginning to have.

Wow – how did that development make you feel, and how did you manage the feelings of your participants?

I actually felt a bit hurt – I was very invested in the success of this program and hadn't considered that I might have to plan for a circumstance like this. We found a suitable replacement, and I spoke to a few participants who were concerned and tried to encourage commitment and emphasized the benefits of having access to this program. I also tried to engage with my previous research participants who were attending the program to try to keep up the positive ambience.

Looking back, if there were one thing you could tell yourself at the beginning, what would it be?

I would give more forethought to the success of the program once it was running. I had assumed that the excitement of the participants in the research program would translate into a community program, but environment and engagement is everything in physical activity participation, and it was important to take the time to ensure that this program had the ability to continue to run successfully in a different environment.

Regardless of the challenges, I think this shows the public interest in physical activity engagement and the need for local governments to offer physical activity opportunities that are free to the public. It is not always lack of motivation that leads to sedentary behaviour, but lack of opportunity.

Being active saves lives, whether a gym workout, walking to work or even housecleaning

September 21, 2017

Most of us know all about the benefits of hitting the gym or going for a run, but Community Health Solutions researcher Dr. Scott Lear has found that any type of physical activity can prevent death and heart disease. This includes walking or cycling to work, cleaning the house, and having an active job. The Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study, a large international study involving more than 130,000 from 17 different countries, was published in the prestigious The Lancet journal this week.

Dr. Lear and his team of researchers demonstrated that meeting the current guideline of 30 minutes of activity a day, or 150 minutes a week, reduced the overall risk of death by 28 per cent, while heart disease death was reduced by 20 per cent. These results were similar regardless of the type of physical activity.

Most of us are clearly not getting enough exercise – only about one in four Canadians reach those guidelines. Dr. Lear says these results of his study show exercise doesn’t have to be complicated. “People often think of it as an all-or-nothing approach, but physical activity can be simple and free, done in ‘bite-size’ five or 10 minute chunks through the day.” For example, he suggests getting up from your desk at work and taking a two minute walk every hour or skipping the elevator for the stairs when possible.

Although previous research from high-income countries shows leisure time activity helps prevent heart disease and death, the PURE study also included people from low and middle-income countries where leisure time physical activity isn’t as prevalent. These countries are financially impacted the most by the burden of heart disease.

In addition, researchers found the benefits of physical activity continued at very high levels with no ceiling effect. People who got more than 750 minutes of brisk walking per week had an even greater decrease in the risk of death. That level is difficult to achieve during leisure time, but much easier if it is part of everyday activities such as active commuting, being active at work or doing household chores.

The bottom line, according to Dr. Lear, “More than one in 12 deaths over a five year period could be prevented if everyone was active for at least 150 minutes per week.” So get walking!

Dr. Scott Lear holds the Pfizer Heart & Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Prevention Research at St. Paul’s Hospital and is a professor of Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences. The PURE study was led by the Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences.

Eat more fat, less carbohydrates and a moderate amount of fruits, vegetables and legumes, results from our global study say

September 3, 2017

Vancouver, B.C. – Our research group contributed to two papers published in The Lancet this week that question conventional wisdom around the health benefits of a low-fat diet.

Results from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiologic (PURE) Study show that a diet which includes a moderate intake of fat, fruits and vegetables, and avoidance of high amounts of carbohydrates, confers the lowest risk of premature death.

In the first paper, people with the highest carbohydrate intake (>67% of daily caloric intake) had higher rates of premature death compared to those with the lowest intake (approximately 46%). In contrast, the highest intake of total fat (approximately 35%) was associated with the lowest risk for premature death. Analyses by fat type indicated that people with the highest intakes of saturated (13%), mono- (13%) and polyunsaturated (8%) fats had the lowest risk. These findings are in contrast to current dietary recommendations that fat make up less than 30% of daily caloric intake.

The second paper looked at the benefits of fruits and vegetables. Compared to only one serving per day, increasing fruit and vegetable intake was associated with a reduction in premature death. The lowest risk was at 3 to 4 servings per day, with no additional benefit when eating up to 8 servings daily. Of note, eating raw vegetable was more strongly associated with a lower risk of premature death compared to cooked vegetables.

The PURE Study followed more than 135,000 people across five continents for seven years. A unique aspect of the study is its inclusion of low- and middle-income countries. These are often excluded from studies, yet they comprise the bulk of the world’s population. The lifestyle and access to foods is quite different in these countries compared to high-income ones, allowing for more robust analyses.

For a long time, a diet low in fat has been recommended to prevent and treat heart disease and stroke. However, this has led to many people consuming diets high in carbohydrates, and particularly processed carbohydrates.

Together, these two robust papers from the largest study of its kind highlight that higher fat and lower fruit and vegetable intakes than prescribed by current guidelines are associated with lower risk of premature death. The inclusion of low and middle income countries will help to inform guidelines in these parts of the world that have generally been based on data from high income countries.

The PURE study was funded from more than 50 sources, including the Population Health Research Institute, the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario and Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.


Associations of fats and carbohydrate intake with cardiovascular disease and mortality in 18 countries from five continents (PURE): a prospective cohort study

Fruit, vegetable, and legume intake, and cardiovascular disease and deaths in 18 countries (PURE): a prospective cohort study

Heart disease patients receive social support in the palm of their hands

October 1, 2016

A pilot study of a social networking app for women with heart disease, led by the Heart and Stroke Foundation in collaboration with CoHeaRT's Drs. Scott Lear and Brodie Sakakibara, showed that the application was effective at helping users manage their health. According to results, participants were happy with the concept of using m-health for peer support, and after 10 weeks of using the program, there were improvements in participants' health behaviours, self-monitoring, social support and social integration.

The Healing Circles mobile health app, developed by Curatio, allows women to share their experience, knowledge, manage their condition and connect with experts from the Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Dr. Sakakibara won best abstract and presented the results of the Healing Circles study at Heart + Lung Health FEST 2016.

External Links

Publication: Using Mobile-Health to Connect Women with Cardiovascular Disease and Improve Self-Management

Healing Circles news release

Spotlight on Dr. Scott Lear, by ICVHealth

"Gaps in holistic patient care are obvious. Floors in hospitals are based on organs or diseases—there is the cardiac ward, nephrology ward, HIV ward, and so on. Our clinics and medical specialities are based on a model which focuses on organs or specific diseases. This is an effective system for acute care conditions, but it is less effective for the treatment of chronic diseases where people may suffer from multiple diseases."

The BC Centre for Improved Cardiovascular Health (ICVHealth) recently interviewed Dr. Scott Lear about his work and the potential for improvement of care in BC. ICVHelath is a research program based out of St. Paul's Hospital whose aim is to improve the cardiovascular health of British Columbians. Dr. Lear is a Clinical Lead with the group.

The full interview is available on the ICVHealth website.

Every move is a good move! The association between the built environment and physical activity

built environment, active transportation

CoHeaRT's doctorate student Danijela Gasevic recently gave a talk at the University of Texas at Arlington about the importance of designing our cities to be more pedestrian- and bike-friendly. The presentation is available in full through UT Arlington's website.

Out of interest, we compared walk scores for Vancouver (Danijela's place of residence), nearby Abbotsford, BC, and Arlington, Texas, where the talk was presented:

Presentation Summary

There is growing recognition that the way cities are built, the built environment, can positively or negatively affect our health and health-related behaviours, such as physical activity. Physical activity reduces incidence of, and mortality from, cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and some forms of cancer such as colon and breast cancers; it reduces rates of fall incidences, helps in the treatment of patients with sleep disorders, and contributes positively to a general sense of well-being and a positive frame of mind.

Despite the known benefits of physical activity, 31% of adults globally are insufficiently active. Physical inactivity has been regarded as a public health crisis and increasing physical activity is a global public health priority. Historically, the main approach to increasing physical activity was to advise individuals to increase personal physical activity levels, but it has since been recognized that, rather than targeting individuals or small groups, physical activity interventions should be aimed at large groups of people or populations so as to bring about a population wide-change.

One of the ways to increase physical activity at the population level is by restructuring the environments in which physical activity takes place. In this talk, Danijela discusses built environment features linked to physical activity and outlines potential environmental strategies to promote physical activity.

External Links

Danijela's presentation

Danijela's personal website

'Virtual' rehabilitation program can reduce heart disease risk

virtual cardiac rehabilitation program

A new study focused on web-based cardiac rehabilitation found a virtual program reduced heart disease risk in patients. The study, led by CHS Director Dr. Scott Lear, developed and tested a rehabilitation program that offered monitoring, education and support to heart disease patients living in small urban and rural areas throughout British Columbia.

Heart disease is a leading cause of death and disability in Canada and worldwide. Cardiac rehabilitation programs are effective treatment options for patients with heart disease to prevent heart attacks and premature death. However, accessibility to these programs largely impacts how much people will use them.

“Because these programs are generally administered within hospitals or health centres, many people find them inconvenient or unfeasible to attend,” said Dr. Lear who also holds the Pfizer/Heart and Stroke Foundation Chair in Cardiovascular Research at St. Paul’s Hospital. “Our virtual program brought care into patients’ homes to help manage their disease and reduce their risk for heart disease, all at a time dictated by the patient.”

Typically, only 10-30 percent of eligible patients participate in cardiac rehabilitation programs. Barriers include travel distance to the program, the time commitment and the inconvenience of maintaining a regimented schedule. The impact is especially great in rural and remote areas, where heart disease rates tend to be higher, yet access is a primary challenge.

As the study authors show, the virtual program may be the answer to tackling these barriers and to meeting the increasing health care demands and associated costs of an aging population. They found that after 16 weeks in the program, patients improved their exercise capacity, diet and cholesterol levels, and all of these changes were still present a year after the program ended. Additionally, those who participated in the program saw a lower number of hospital visits. The drop-out rates and required staff time of the virtual program were also lower than in-person care, making this a safe, effective and economical solution for providing preventative care to heart disease patients. The study was published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

“Cardiac rehabilitation programs are key to managing patients with heart disease, but not everyone can attend, so we need new ways such as the ‘virtual’ program to help reach more patients,” said Dr. Andrew Ignaszewski, cardiologist lead at St. Paul’s Hospital and a co-author.

Following the success of this project, Dr. Lear and researchers are looking to implement the program into standard health care.

Funding for this study was provided by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of BC and Yukon and in part by Canada Health Infoway.

Additional Readings

ARTICLE: Randomized Trial of a Virtual Cardiac Rehabilitation Program Delivered at a Distance via the Internet

Virtual Cardiac Rehabilitation Program study page

Results from M-CHAT study: liver fat associations with physical activity

A study recently published by CoHeaRT’s Iris Lesser, Danijela Gasevic, Scott Lear, and others, looked at whether physical activity could predict future liver fat accumulation. Those who are obese or have diabetes, high cholesterol or high triglyceride levels are more at risk of developing excess liver fat. Liver fat is also a risk factor for heart disease.

The authors compared physical activity levels of participants at the beginning of the study and liver fat accumulation at 5-year follow-up. They wanted to see whether the amount and intensity of physical activity in the year prior to the beginning of the study had an influence on liver fat at five year follow-up. Looking at moderate, moderate-vigorous and vigorous physical activity, the authors found that only vigorous physical activity was associated with lowered liver fat accumulation.

Physical activity rates are measured in metabolic equivalents (METs), where 1 MET is equal to metabolic rate at rest. Moderate activity is defined as 3 – 5.9 METs; in practical terms, these are activities such as brisk walking, which generate some sweat and harder breathing. On the other hand, high-intensity activities such as jogging are defined as 6 METs or more.

Current Canadian physical activity guidelines for adults aged 18 – 64 suggest 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week, in at least 10 minute intervals. Although moderate physical activity has many benefits, this study did not find that moderate activity alone was enough to alter liver fat.

These findings are part of M-CHAT, the Multicultural Community Health Assessment Trial, which examined how body fat distribution differs among ethnicities. Aboriginal, Caucasian, Chinese and South Asian groups were compared.


ARTICLE: The association between physical activity and liver fat after five years of follow-up in a primary prevention multi-ethnic cohort

Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines

Read it now: the June newsletter for the BCATPR is here

The June edition of the BCATPR bimonthly newsletter features:

Visit for more details.

Headed by Dr. Scott Lear, the BCATPR (BC Alliance on Telehealth Policy and Research) works in the area of health-related services using telecommunications technologies.

The BCATPR telehealth newsletter for April is out now!

Photo by: Nha Le Hoan

The April edition of the BCATPR bimonthly newsletter features:

Visit for more details.

Headed by Dr. Scott Lear, the BCATPR (BC Alliance on Telehealth Policy and Research) works in the area of health-related services using telecommunications technologies.

The 7th annual BCATPR telehealth workshop, coming May 26th

The 7th annual BCATPR workshop will be taking place on Monday, May 26, 2014 at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver.

Join us for British Columbia’s premier multidisciplinary workshop for those interested in in telemedicine, telehealth, mobile health technologies, remote monitoring and web-based programs for chronic disease management.

Poster submissions

If you would like to exhibit a poster at this year's BCATPR workshop, please submit an abstract through our online form. Please have a look at our abstract guidelines prior to submitting.


Registration for the workshop is now open! Please register here.

Looking forward to seeing you there!

How can we improve cardiac rehabilitation programs?

The first regional cardiac rehabilitation information meeting was held in Vancouver last week to discuss the future of cardiac rehabilitation. Physicians, researchers, registered nurses, program managers, dieticians and exercise instructors from across Lower Mainland health authorities and community programs took part in the discussion.

Dr. Scott Lear provided an overview of the future of cardiac rehabilitation with support from almost a decade of research. He presented two innovative alternatives to traditional in-hospital cardiac rehabilitation programs, which are limited by their high costs and low participant adherence.

Specifically, Dr. Lear showed evidence that online cardiac rehabilitation can improve exercise capacity similarly to regular programs. It may also be an alternative way to increase cardiac rehabilitation participation and reduce health care costs.

Lear also presented work done by himself and PhD graduate Dr. Farias-Godoy, which showed that a "reduced" cardiac rehabilitation program may be an alternative to a regular program. These reduced programs allowed patients to attend fewer in-hospital classes with similar results to full programs.

Also discussed at the meeting was the importance of increasing referrals to cardiac rehabilitation to ensure that all patients are getting access to these highly effective programs. Capacity also needs to increase to ensure that programs are able to accept an increasing number of patient referrals.

Cardiac rehabilitation is an essential component in the recovery of cardiac patients, and the healthcare system needs to be innovative to meet the needs of these patients.

Coming to your community – Health care from your home computer

As featured on the Simon Fraser University website:

Simon Fraser University professor Scott Lear and his research team have developed a website to help patients living with diabetes, heart, kidney and lung disease manage their health - all in the comfort of their own homes.

Patients living throughout B.C. are being invited to participate in an ongoing study tracking its use.

"Chronic disease rates are higher in small urban and rural areas, yet access to care is limited to larger cities," notes Lear. "Patients from remote areas often end up traveling long distances to receive care, sometimes at great time and financial costs.

"With monitoring through the Internet, patients can be better supported to manage medications and symptoms and to follow preventive strategies at home."

Lear's program, My Health Connect, offers patients just that. "Our program is designed to help patients keep track of their own health, and receive coordinated care through a team-based approach between the My Health Connect nurse, patient and their local physicians," he says.

Developed in collaboration with the province's health authorities and currently undergoing study throughout the province, My Health Connect tracks symptom data and measurements such as blood pressure, weight and sugar levels.

Using a computer algorithm, if a value falls outside an individual's normal range, an alert is sent to a designated nurse, who telephones the patient and provides counseling and advice on whether to see a doctor. Since patients manually enter the data, no specialized equipment is necessary. The program also provides access to dietician and exercise specialist support.

Says one participant: "The program has had a significant and positive effect on my health. The daily reports have helped me to stay focused on improving those issues that I must address. Having the counsel of a nurse during the program greatly assisted me in understanding the questions I needed to have answered."

Given the program's coordination with the patient's doctor, it's anticipated My Health Connect will prevent disease progression, reduce the need for patient travel for care and keep patients out of hospital. Early studies have indicated that disease risk factors can be reduced through Internet-based programs.

Dr. Kandasamy Gounden is one of a number of physicians with patients in the study. "My Health Connect has been an invaluable support for my patients. I have several patients using the system, and it has helped them to take charge of their own health. They are able to keep better records of their symptoms and to self-manage between appointments with timely and individualized feedback from the nurse. This helps make our visits more focused and informed."

Funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, Lear is seeking additional patients to participate in the ongoing study.

This study is conducted by the BC Alliance on Telehealth Policy and Research (BCATPR), a division of CoHeaRT headed by Dr. Scott Lear. For more information about the study, visit the BCATPR projects page at

The BCATPR June telehealth newsletter is out!

The June edition of the BCATPR bimonthly newsletter features:

Visit for more details.

Headed by Dr. Scott Lear, the BCATPR (BC Alliance on Telehealth Policy and Research) works in the area of health-related services using telecommunications technologies.

Dr. Mike Evans' viral video, 23 and 1/2 hours, and other great health resources

Check out the following entertaining and informative videos by Dr. Mike Evans, a family physician and Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto. His website is a great resource for a number of common health topics.

In 23 and 1/2 hours, Dr. Evans answers the old question "What is the single best thing we can do for our health"

90:10 The single most important thing you can do for your stress

Smoking resources

BCATPR's February newsletter is out

The February edition of the BCATPR bimonthly newsletter features:

  • BCATPR Workshop 2013: Tuesday, June 18
  • Participants needed for heart failure study
  • Combating patient isolation at the Heart Centre, SPH
  • Bridging social media and health care

Headed by Dr. Scott Lear, the BCATPR (BC Alliance on Telehealth Policy and Research) works in the area of health-related services using telecommunications technologies.

BCATPR's December newsletter is out

Happy holidays from BCATPR

The December edition of the BCATPR bimonthly newsletter features:

  • New to VGH/SPH: Heart Failure Medication Management Program
  • Online information bank for home-based telehealth
  • BCATPR study updates

Headed by Dr. Scott Lear, the BCATPR (BC Alliance on Telehealth Policy and Research) works in the area of health-related services using telecommunications technologies.

The unhappy truth about soda

Brought to you by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, this video shows what really happens to polar bears when they drink soft drinks. From The Real Bears website: It wasn't so bad when soft drinks were the occasional treat. But now sugary drinks are the number one source of calories in the American diet. With one third of America overweight and another third obese, it's a wonder anyone is still swallowing what the soda companies are selling.

BCATPR's October newsletter is out

BCATPR August newsletter cover page

The October edition of the BCATPR bimonthly newsletter features new BCATPR initiatives and a look into telehealth use by BC health authorities. Headed by Dr. Scott Lear, the BCATPR (BC Alliance on Telehealth Policy and Research) works in the area of health-related services using telecommunications technologies.

TedMed talk: What if "it's the environment, stupid"?

This TedMed talk features a great example of how health, well-being and life expectancy can be changed at the community level. The presenter, Dan Buettner, is a researcher, explorer, New York Times bestselling author and National Geographic Fellow.

Masters student, Jasmine Parmar, featured in Heart and Stroke Foundation video

Look for Jasmine Parmar, MSc student in the CoHeaRT lab, in this Heart and Stroke Foundation video promoting South Asian cardiovascular health! The Heart and Stroke Foundation have set up a website, Our Health Is Our Wealth, to help improve the health of BC's South Asian community through promotion of healthy eating habits and physical activity.

BC Alliance on Telehealth Policy and Research's August newsletter is out

BCATPR August newsletter cover page

A division of CoHeaRT, the BCATPR (BC Alliance on Telehealth Policy and Research) works in the area of health-related services using telecommunications technologies. The August edition of the BCATPR bimonthly newsletter is now out: to read about telehealth-related news and initiatives, click here.

The Vancouver Sun: PhD candidate, Ann Yew, on Sea to Sky highway bike lane improvements

Ann Yew and Jenny Lehmann ride along Sea to Sky highway

CoHeaRT student, Ann Yew, was recently featured in the Vancouver Sun for her work in identifying hazards to cyclists on BC's Sea to Sky highway, which runs from West Vancouver to Whistler and Pemberton. Because the highway is a popular cycling route, Ann and researchers from SFU's geography department are coming forth with evidence that small improvements in highway signage and maintenance will contribute to increased rider safety. Click here to read the full Vancouver Sun article.

The Province: CoHeaRT members Dr. Scott Lear and Bev McCarthy introduce telehealth research for chronic disease

Donald Kinder, telehealth study participant

Dr. Scott Lear and Bev McCarthy, members of the CoHeaRT team and the BC Alliance on Telehealth Policy and Research (BCATPR), were recently interviewed for a feature on telehealth and its ability to bridge the gap in health care for patients living in remote areas. Research conducted by BCATPR members and CoHeaRT staff hopes to shed some light on the effectiveness of virtual programs which aim to improve self-management of chronic diseases such as heart failure or diabetes. The full Province article can be accessed here.

back to top