someone in America dies from cardiovascular disease! Every 36 seconds you guys!! I heard that statistic today and I was absolutely floored! I was floored and then felt immediately compelled to get on here and write about what a serious issue this is for our society and how it is one I think needs to be talked about far more than it is. And what better time to start the conversation than in the month of February which just happens to be Heart Health Month and, on this day, dedicated to all things love and hearts!!
Let’s start first with a few more seriously alarming statistics I came across from the CDC which really opened my eyes and help to illuminate the magnitude of this problem:
I knew Heart Disease was a major issue, but wow, just wow, I had no idea it was this big of a problem. So, let’s break this down some more so we really get a handle on what we are dealing with here. The term heart disease itself actually refers to several types of heart conditions, of which, as mentioned above, CAD is the most common. Below is a brief explanation of CAD along with the other leading forms:
- CAD or Coronary Artery Disease: occurs when the arteries carrying blood to the heart become lined with plaque (which basically consists of fat and cholesterol) and this plaque buildup (called atherosclerosis) causes the arteries to narrow. When our arteries narrow, less oxygen can reach the heart muscle and big problems like heart attacks occur.
- Arrhythmia: refers to an irregular heartbeat; this can be slow irregular, fast irregular or just an actual irregular or abnormal heartbeat. Arrhythmia can be caused by CAD as well as conditions like diabetes, sleep apnea, changes in the structure of your heart or it can occur as a result of a heart attack itself.
- Congestive Heart Failure: CHF is a progressive disease of the heart that affects how efficiently the heart muscles can pump oxygen to the rest of the body. Yet again CAD is often the culprit here along with diabetes and high blood pressure which all leave your heart too weak to pump the necessary amount of oxygen to the rest of our body.
- Valvular Heart Disease: Just like the name implies, this is a disease that targets one or more of the four valves in the heart. Valves can sometimes become weak or even start to leak with Valvular Disease which in turn affects the blood flow through the heart and makes an impact on how effectively the heart can pump.
There are a few others as well such as diseases of the heart muscle itself as well as congenital heart disease which causes problems to the heart at birth and happens in around 1 every 100 or so births in the U.S. So now that we know a little more about what heart disease actually is, let’s get down to the really important part which is how can we prevent or at least lessen the risk of occurrence.
In order to do that, we must understand what some of the most common risk factors are for developing one or more of the aforementioned diseases. These will probably come at no shock to you, but risk factors for heart disease include obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and excessive use of alcohol, to name a few.
It makes sense then in order to ward of heart disease eating right and getting enough exercise can go a long way in keeping our hearts happy! But what, more specifically can we do? Well a good place to start is to:
- Make sure you know you risk! Get that baseline annual physical each year to keep an eye specifically on your blood pressure and cholesterol. If your blood pressure is on the higher side, limit your salt intake and cut back on refined carbs and sugars. If your cholesterol is in the high range, focus on eating whole, not processed foods and limiting red meat for starters (you can check out my post solely dedicated to the topic of cholesterol here).
- Make sure you are getting at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. Aim for a combination of aerobic exercise, strength training and don’t forget to incorporate stretching into your routine to keep that blood flowing and your muscles and joints happy. Getting enough exercise helps in maintaining a healthy weight and preventing other conditions that might put a strain on your heart like diabetes and high blood pressure.
- Choose Heart Healthy Foods such as:
- Fresh Fruits and Vegetables. Adopting a plant-based diet has been shown to go a long way in reducing heart attack risk.
- Whole Grains…Oats are an especially heart-healthy choice
- Lean Proteins such as fish, legumes and nuts
- Green and Black Tea
- Healthy Fats such as Olive Oil and Avocado
- Dark Chocolate (this might be my favorite one 😊)
- Keep stress levels in check as much as possible. I don’t think people realize just how damaging stress can be to our physical bodies. Being chronically stressed can be especially hard on our hearts due to the fact that it raises our blood pressure and heart rate making our hearts work harder to pump that oh so very necessary oxygen to the rest of our body.
- Get your Zzzz’s. Sleep is another area I think people tend to overlook when it comes to maintaining good health, especially heart health. If you aren’t getting the proper amount of sleep every night (on average about 7 hours- check out my post dedicated to the importance of sleep here) your body doesn’t have a chance to recover and repair itself. Lack of proper sleep also tends to lead to obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and even depression all of which can in turn lead to a higher risk of heart attack and heart disease.
Smoking is obviously a big no-no and limiting alcohol consumption as much as possible also goes a long way in warding off heart troubles as well. While all of the suggestion above seem like really obvious ways of maintaining good heart health as well as good overall health, it seems based on that shocking 36 second statistic we need to do a better job following through with them and/or encouraging our loved ones to do so as well.
I would be willing to bet there are very few of you out there who have not been personally touched or know someone who has been affected by this seemingly out of control disease. I know I have, more than once unfortunately, so let’s start talking more about it, taking it more seriously and in turn maybe we can prevent it from happening to someone else we know and/or care for!
Lots of love on this day every other one!