The Path to Cardiovascular Health
By Mark A. Creager, MD
Heart disease is the No.1 cause of death in the world and the leading cause of death in the United States. It is responsible for about 800,000 deaths each year. Approximately 2200 Americans die of heart disease each day; an average of one death every 40 seconds. Each year, over 900,000 Americans have a heart attack. It happens to both men and women. Notably, over 50,000 women die within a year of their first heart attack.
In fact, heart disease is the number one cause of death in women, higher even than cancer. While breast cancer is responsible for one of every 31 deaths of American women each year, one in three deaths are from heart disease. Ninety percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease. Symptoms of a heart attack tend to differ in women than men, and include shortness of breath, back pain, jaw pain and nausea, often leading to delays in seeking lifesaving medical care. Heart disease causes disability, takes lives and disrupts families. Heart disease is not inevitable, and there is much that you can do to preserve your cardiovascular health.
The burden of cardiovascular diseases goes beyond lives lost and changed. There’s also a fiscal toll. Taking into consideration hospitalizations, doctor visits, tests, medications, time lost from work and long-term care for disability, costs in this country for cardiovascular disease exceed $300 billion dollars a year.
We are making progress though. We’ve seen a decrease of 30 percent in deaths from cardiovascular disease in the first decade of this century. In part, this due to fewer people smoking, more people exercising and the use of drugs that lower cholesterol and prevent blood clots to reduce the risk of heart attacks. That’s the good news. The bad news is that our progress is stalling and we must enhance our efforts. Here are steps that you can take to improve your heart health and reduce your risk of heart disease.
Eat a heart healthy diet, which includes fruits and vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fiber-rich whole grains, lean meats, poultry and fish. Read nutrition labels, and limit saturated fat, Trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars.
Stay active and exercise. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. Walking for as few as 30-minutes a day provides heart health benefits.
Get your blood pressure measured, and if it is high, make sure it is treated. One out of three adults has high blood pressure. It is a major cause of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease. To lower the risk of high blood pressure, eat a heart healthy and low-salt diet, enjoy regular physical activity, maintain a healthy weight and take your medications properly.
If you smoke, stop. Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Even second hand smoke is harmful. Smoking increases the risk of blockages in arteries. One year after quitting, your risk of coronary artery disease is cut in half. Speak to your health care provider who can recommend counseling and medications to help you quit smoking.
Also, get your cholesterol and your blood sugar checked. High cholesterol and diabetes cause heart disease. A healthy diet and exercise can help, but often medications are required to treat these conditions.
Habits are hard to break. But, if you make these heart healthy lifestyle changes, you have increased your chances for a longer, healthier life.