We all like to think we have healthy hearts. Frequently, we don't know what that means. Most of us don't really want to do the things to keep our hearts healthy. As Stephen Covey says, “I am not a product of my circumstances. I am a product of my decisions.” That certainly pertains to heart disease. Let's look at the most significant risk factors for heart disease and consider the decisions we can make to keep our hearts healthy.
In 2019, the overall prevalence of heart disease was approximately 7% in men and 4.2% in women. As we age, the news is even worse. The incidence of heart disease rises from approximately 40% for people 40-59 years of age to approximately 75% at 60-79 and 86% for those over age 80. Thus, heart disease is becoming an even bigger problem as the average age of our population rises.
What's causing so much heart disease? We know high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus and smoking tobacco are risk factors for the development of heart disease. Being overweight is often the product of overeating and physical inactivity; it is a risk factor. A family history of heart disease, particularly in family members under age 60, also increases our risk of developing heart disease.
What decisions can we make to reduce our chances of developing heart disease? We can start by changing our eating habits. Heart-healthy diets contain lower amounts of cholesterol-containing foods and saturated fat. There are many examples of heart-healthy diets, such as a Mediterranean diet. Heart-healthy diets are low in complex carbohydrates and processed sugar. These components are particularly damaging for people with diabetes and/or who are overweight. Alcohol is a type of carbohydrate that contains a high quantity of calories. It is recommended that drinking alcohol-containing beverages should be done only in moderation. Also, the amount we eat, as measured by calories, plays a role in the creation and maintenance of a healthy diet.
Regular aerobic activity, such as walking, jogging, swimming or cycling, plays a big role in the prevention of heart disease. Aerobic exercise helps with weight management and blood sugar control. It also is helpful in maintaining good blood pressure. Regular exercise helps with better sleep and reduced levels of stress. Exercise is a great habit to develop for the prevention of heart disease. The tough part is getting started!
Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability and death in the United States. While the overall prevalence of smoking is decreasing, it remains a significant risk factor for heart disease. Smoking cessation is difficult for most smokers but there are methods to assist in this endeavor. If you smoke and want to quit, ask your doctor for advice on how to quit.
February is American Heart Month. Let's all commit to making better choices for better heart health.