Since 1950, the number of lives lost due to cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the U.S. has gone down by 60 percent, with a major decline occurring over the last quarter of a century. Still, we lose over 600,000 lives per year to heart disease and another 130,000 to stroke. There are over 5 million people in our country who suffer from heart failure and 800,000 others who are victimized by stroke.
In recent years, conscious changes in life style have helped enhance cardiovascular health. It’s not an exaggeration to say that “prevention” has played a significant role in the fight to win cardiovascular health.
To prevent CVD, we need to understand its causes. We may not know them all but we do know that, smoking, cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical activity, diet and obesity play significant roles. Learn more about how these factors can affect our hearts:
While smoking has been cut in half over the last 30 years, we still have 40 million people who are active smokers and 58 million who are exposed to secondhand smoke in our country. E-Cigarettes, in 2014, became the most commonly used tobacco product among high school students. All tobacco products have a powerful pharmacological ingredient, nicotine, which is a potent constrictor of blood vessels. It not only raises blood pressure and reduces blood and oxygen supply to the organs, but long-term use leads to permanent damage to the blood vessels leading to atherosclerosis or hardening of the arteries.
Prevalence of high cholesterol in our adult population has dropped, but 77 million adults have a total cholesterol of over 200 mg%, LDL or bad cholesterol over 100 mg% and HDL or good cholesterol under 45 mg%. Success in lowering bad cholesterol has occurred due to campaigns against smoking and obesity, with more people eating healthy and exercising. These changes must be the first steps before medicinal intervention.
3. High Blood Pressure
Even in 2016, one in three Americans have high blood pressure (BP) and even worse, only half of these have it under control. High BP is also the major factor in heart and kidney failure, stroke, aneurysms and sudden death. Prevention and management of high BP can include cessation of smoking, aerobic exercise, eating healthy foods, losing weight and cutting salt intake.
4. Heart Healthy Eating Habits
Saturated fatty acids, which primarily come from animal fats and trans-fatty acids, and which get converted in the liver to cholesterol, are the major determinant of blood cholesterol level. Eating fresh vegetables, particularly those with bright colors, and fresh fruits help, as they are rich in vitamins and flavonols (which are strong antioxidants). Foods that are low in sodium and saturated fatty acids and high in fresh fruits and vegetables, which are rich in minerals such as potassium, calcium and magnesium, will promote cardiovascular health.
5. Physical Activity
One third of the adult U.S. population doesn’t measure up to the minimal physical activity per week suggested by the Surgeon General. The recommendation is 30 minutes of activity, most days a week, at the same intensity as walking 3-4 miles / hour. Physical activity is associated with not only heart health but lowers the risk for obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, high blood pressure, high bad cholesterol, stress and anxiety. Being active can raise your good cholesterol, improve physical performance, body flexibility and self-confidence.
Obesity has reached an epidemic proportion where today, two out of three adults in America are either overweight or obese. It may not be the perfect tool, but calculating BMI (weight in KG/ square of height in M) is an accepted way to check if one is underweight, healthy, overweight or obese. Here’s a chart for your reference:
BMI Under Wt. / Healthy / Over Wt. / Obese
<19 Under Weight
19-24.9 Healthy Weight
25- 29.9 Over Weight
30 & > Obese
Over weight and obesity adds to the risk of diabetes, high BP, high cholesterol, chronic musculoskeletal disorders, deconditioning, loss of self-confidence and depression. To control weight can be a lifelong proposition involving three simple yet so very difficult measures: Balance of Calorie based on your physical activity, age and sex, Source of Calories and Exercise/Activity.
If you’re worried about your heart, it is important to realize it’s the interaction of healthy lifestyle and diet with biological risks such as genetics, hypertension and high cholesterol which significantly influences the risk for coronary heart disease! Not smoking, eating right, exercising and managing stress can all help. Keep up your healthy with regular exercise and making healthy menu selections everyday. Now the trick is balancing and maintaining these good habits whenever we leave the comfort of our homes and travel.