Coastrek, Australia’s iconic hiking challenge for women, has raised $4.1 million for the Heart Foundation, to help end heart disease and close the gender gap in heart health for women in Australia.
Demonstrating the power of community, more than 8,000 trekkers – predominantly women - hiked more than 260,000 kilometres across five Coastrek events in 2023 along some of Australia’s most spectacular coastal trails, supported by over 50,000 donations from friends, family and colleagues.
But Coastrek is much more than a charity walk says Founder, Di Westaway OAM, who says it provides a viable solution to the growing loneliness epidemic. A recent report cited by the World Health Organisation found “poor or insufficient social connection is associated with a 29% increase in the risk of heart disease, a 32% increase in the risk of stroke, and an increased risk of anxiety and depression.” The Australian Government has also identified loneliness and social isolation as one of the country’s most pressing public health concerns.
“Coastrek fosters connection – with friends, with nature and the community – in fact, it’s essential. You train as a team of four for 12 weeks and take on the 20–60-kilometre event day hiking challenge together and as part of a like-minded and engaged community. Plus, we had over 230 volunteers join us this year who all took away a ‘helpers high’ from cheering our trekkers over the finish line,” says Westaway.
Walking is also ‘the magic pill against heart disease’, says Westaway. Just 2.5 hours of walking per week – or 21 minutes a day – can reduce the risk of heart disease and chronic illness by 30% - yet currently only 15% of Australians are achieving this. The Coastrek 12-week training program outlines an average of 2.5–5 hours of exercise per week – more than meeting the minimum requirement to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
While anyone is welcome to take part in Coastrek, it’s women that keep coming back:
“We want all our trekkers to experience the value and enjoyment of an endurance event without the pressure to ‘win’,” says Westaway. “That’s why Coastrek is not a race, it’s a challenge. This resonates with women who tend to enjoy the social aspect of the journey rather than how quickly they can get to the finish line.”
Heart Foundation Board Member, Jennifer Tucker, who took part in Sydney’s Coastrek event in 2023, experienced her own life-threatening heart episode five years ago. Unlike the crushing chest pains men experience, Jennifer presented with signs of fatigue.
“It’s a sad fact that women with heart disease are more likely to die than men because they are more likely to be misdiagnosed due the subtle symptoms we present with. I was one of the lucky ones – a 90% blockage was identified in a heart health check and addressed immediately – but I could have been one of the statistics that weren’t so lucky.”
Currently, one woman dies from heart disease in Australia nearly every hour – on average that’s 20 a day and around 7,000 women per year. Leading Clinical and Research Cardiologist and Coastrek Ambassador, Dr Nikki Bart says the inequities in women’s heart health education and research needs to be addressed urgently:
“For a long time, women were excluded from research studies. Even now in our heart attack and heart failure studies, the proportion of women included is well below 50 per cent. Fundraising from Coastrek will help fund really valuable, lifesaving research into women’s heart health.”
Examples of how the $4.1 million raised from Coastrek events will improve heart health outcomes for women include:
- Supporting five new funding offers to researchers such as Dr Katharine McBride and Dr Siew Lim who are focusing on women's specific factors such as pregnancy complications and premature menopause.
- Facilitating the launch of the Heart Foundation’s involvement in the Global Cardiovascular Research Funders Forum (GCRFF) project; a Women’s cardiovascular health research initiative that aims to create greater awareness for women’s heart health through international collaboration.
- Addressing the unequal representation of female researchers in the sector by championing 40 female research fellows – accounting for more than half the research awards announced to start in 2024.
- Supporting programs to help bring an end to Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) in remote communities – an entirely preventable disease particularly prevalent amongst First Nations women and girls - including the Barunga Remote Laundries Project, (1), and Champions4Change.
Funding could also support the Jump Rope For Heart Program in schools – fostering physical activity and heart health awareness from an early age.
The $4.1million raised for the Heart Foundation in 2023 takes the fundraising total raised by Coastrek since its inception in 2009 to $49 million. Previous charity beneficiaries have included the Fred Hollows Foundation (2009-2018) and Beyond Blue (2018-2022).
Coastrek events in 2024 will take place on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, the Mornington Peninsula, the Sunshine Coast, Fleurieu Peninsula and Margaret River – with a new event added in Canberra next March. Visit www.coastrek.com.au
- in partnership with the Aboriginal Investment Group
About Wild Women on Top and Coastrek
Established in 2004, Wild Women on Top is one of Australia’s largest and longest running women’s health movements. Their mission is to connect, coach and champion women in the in the outdoors through community hiking adventures and their flagship Coastrek series of hiking events around Australia. In 2020, Founder & CEO Di Westaway was awarded an OAM for services to women’s health, fitness and charity services. She is an authority on lifestyle health and wellbeing and holds the world record for the highest handstand at 6,982m above sea level on Mt Ama Dablam, Nepal.
About the Heart Foundation
The Heart Foundation is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to fighting the single biggest killer of Australians – heart disease. For more than 60 years it has led the battle to save lives and improve the heart health of all Australians. Its sights are set on a world where people don’t suffer or die prematurely because of heart disease. Australians can discover their risk of heart attack or stroke by using the Foundation’s Heart Age Calculator. To find out about the Heart Foundation visit www.heartfoundation.org.au