Did you know that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States? While you never think you’re going to be victimized by a heart attack, the fact of the matter is that millions of Americans aren’t maintaining healthy tickers – thereby placing them in high-risk categories.
The Troubling State of Heart Health in the U.S.
It’s easy to gloss over the serious health problems we have in this country, but the statistics don’t lie. According to the CDC:
- Roughly 610,000 people die of heart disease each year in the US. That equals roughly 1 in 4 deaths.
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women, though men make up a larger share of deaths.
- The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease (CHD), which kills more than 370,000 people every year. This is also the most common cause of heart attack in the US.
- Each year, 735,000 Americans suffer heart attacks. Roughly 71 percent of these are a first heart attack, while the other 29 percent occur in people who have already experienced a heart attack.
- Roughly 47 percent of all Americans have at least one major risk factor for a heart attack.
According to Rush University Medical Center, the leading risk factors for a heart attack include diabetes, family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a previous stroke, kidney disease, and peripheral vascular disease. Other factors frequently involved in heart attacks include oral contraceptive or hormone replacement therapy; smoking or regular use of other tobacco products; obesity (BMI over 30) or being significantly overweight (BMI over 28); and pre-eclampsia, diabetes, or high blood pressure during pregnancy.
How To Be Proactive With Heart Health
While there are certain biological and hereditary risk factors that you can’t do anything about, there are plenty of smart health decisions you can make to be proactive with your heart health and strengthen yourself against a potentially deadly heart attack.
Let’s highlight a few of them:
- Recognize the Symptoms
While 92 percent of people recognize chest pain as a symptom of a heart attack, only 27 percent are aware of all major symptoms and know to call 911 right away. Furthermore, 47 percent of sudden cardiac deaths occur outside of a hospital. This indicates that people don’t often act on early warning signs.
It’s really important that people understand when they’re having a heart attack, so they can receive prompt medical attention. While this might not prevent a heart attack, it can often mean the difference between life and death.
- Maintain a Heart-Healthy Diet
Perhaps the single most important thing you can do to prevent a heart attack is maintain a heart-healthy diet. This means consuming a diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, while eliminating excess salt, sugars, and saturated fats.
“Following a heart-healthy diet also means keeping an eye on how much alcohol you drink. If you choose to drink alcohol, it’s better for your heart to do so in moderation,” Mayo Clinic advises. “For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65, and up to two drinks a day for men age 65 and younger. One drink is defined as 12 ounces (355 milliliters, or mL) of beer, 5 ounces of wine (148 mL), or 1.5 fluid ounces (44mL) of 80-proof distilled spirits.”
- Get Regular Exercise
In addition to eating well, you need to exercise frequently. Not only does this keep your heart healthy and happy, but it also sheds excess weight (which puts extra pressure on your heart).
The best rule of thumb is to get 30 minutes of continuous moderate exercise per day. This may include walking briskly, swimming, jogging, or playing a sport like soccer or basketball.
- Manage Stress
While stress in isolated situations is good, chronic stress can have a negative impact on your overall health. In terms of heart health, it elevates your blood pressure and makes your heart work harder than it should.
By managing stress, you can lower your blood pressure and remove some of this pressure on your heart. In addition to finding healthy outlets for your stress – such as exercise – you should actually seek out ways to eliminate the factors causing your stress. This may require you to change jobs, end a bad relationship, or shift your priorities.
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
Lowering the number of heart attacks in this country and promoting better heart health begins on an individual basis with people making smart and proactive lifestyle choices that reduce the risk of heart disease and other related issues. But it’s also important for the healthcare community to stop taking such a reactive approach.
“The future of cardiovascular research is to stop the disease before it starts,” says Dr. Steven Houser, former president of the American Heart Association. “It sounds simple, but we haven’t really done that. What we’ve done before is that we identify the disease once it exists and do our best to treat it. But the brave new world is to identify the disease you might get before you get it.”
As individuals and healthcare organizations begin to understand the need for taking preventative action, the hope is that this deadly trend will dissipate and we’ll become a nation that prioritizes heart health above all else.
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