A Tauranga doctor has been awarded $150,000 from the Heart Foundation for a revolutionary research programme aimed at preventing heart disease in Maori.

Anna Rolleston, based at The Cardiac Clinic in 3rd Ave, will head the 12-week exercise and lifestyle management programme with a kaupapa Maori philosophy.

The aim of the programme is to act as the fence at the top of the cliff rather than the ambulance, she said.

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"The Heart Foundation has a really good funding process. It's quite competitive."

Dr Rolleston's programme will recruit about 120 people over a two-year period.

People will be recommended from local medical centres if they suit and are ready for the programme, which involves lifestyle changes and exercise. Importantly, recruits will need to have not suffered a cardiac event before.

"Our project is looking more at prevention and trying to get some change prior to someone having a heart attack. Of course, Maori are a high percentage of the population for heart disease and the Heart Foundation has said one of its key areas is Maori health. So our philosophy uses Maori philosophy to try to get some lifestyle change," Dr Rolleston said.

"In terms of Maori health, it's not just only about the physical aspects of health such as blood pressure and how heavy you are, etc. Maori philosophy looks at widening that by looking into some mental health aspects, family dynamics and if someone has spiritual beliefs ... we want to integrate those things to see if we they can be helpful to their health."

Dr Rolleston said she aimed to have people make choices themselves to prevent poor heart health, instead of telling patients after a cardiac incident all of the things they were no longer allowed to do.

Recruits would need to meet some of the heart health risk factors which included smoking, family history and lack of exercise.

"We will be looking to see if the programme that uses a Maori philosophy has an effect on those risk factors," Dr Rolleston said.

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Heart Foundation Associate Professor Gerry Devlin said they were proud to be supporting the "innovative project".

"We know Maori are disproportionately affected by heart disease, which is why projects like Dr Rolleston's are so important."