Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American adults, and it has been for many years. Although we are all familiar with the words, there are a lot of things about heart disease that most people don’t know. It turns out that there are risk factors for heart disease that you can change, and risk factors for heart disease that you cannot change.
Does heart disease run in families?
Yes. If people in your immediate family have been diagnosed with heart disease, than you have a higher risk of having heart disease, as well. People with this risk factor should get an overall check and be screened for high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol at least every year.
I have diabetes or high blood pressure. Should I be worried about my heart?
Yes. Having diabetes and/or high blood pressure significantly increases your risk of having a heart attack. If you have one (or both) of these disorders and control it well than your chance of having a heart attack is only slightly elevates. We recommend regular screenings for high blood pressure and diabetes, and a treatment plan that includes diet and exercise as well and taking the medication you are given when you’re supposed to take it.
I’m getting older. Does that increase my risk of having a heart attack?
Yes. Your risk of having a heart attack increases with age. That said, younger men are more likely to have heart attacks than younger women. Women almost never have heart attacks before menopause.
This is all very grim. Do you have any good news for me?
Of course. Those are risks that are hard to change. The best thing you can do about them is be aware, get your screenings and work to control any underlying conditions.
There are risk factors we can change?
Diet is a huge contributing risk factor for heart disease and heart attacks. It turns out that the cheapest food available is usually the worst for us – and an awful lot of people have no idea how much salt, sugar and fat they eat. Since I can’t tell you that you can never have another french fry – I will suggest this:
Can you eat 10% better? Can you get 10% more of your calories from fresh food? Can you get 10% fewer of your calories from a box or a drive-through window? Just 10%?? Most of our students think that’s a really doable goal. Do 10% better for a month, then do it again. You’ll be happy with the result.
Lack of exercise is an important risk factor as well. Your heart is a muscle, and like all muscles, it needs to exercise to be strong.
Exercise has other benefits. It can lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It can also if weight is lost, help control adult-onset diabetes. Also, many people report that when they exercise more they crave bad food less (I just did all that work – I don’t want a burger).
Exercise also reduces stress, which is the third controllable risk factor in heart disease.
The current guidelines for exercise from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are pretty modest. They’re looking for 20-30 minutes of brisk walking 5 or 6 days a week. That’s 150 minutes a week with an increased heart rate. If you want to do 3, 10 minute walks or circuits, that’s fine. They are also encouraging adults to do 2 days a week of resistance work (with stretch bands) or weight lifting. Again, CDC isn’t looking for power lifters, just moderate resistance exercise.
Why? The aerobic exercise strengthens the heart, and occasionally encourages it to develop secondary blood vessels around any that might be blocked.
The weight training helps in a variety of ways. Developed muscles burn fat faster, helping people maintain a healthier weight. People who lift weights or do resistance work also have better bone density, better balance, and improved flexibility.
Read this: http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/everyone/guidelines/adults.html
for more information and discuss appropriate exercise with your doctor.
We know from our own experience that most people will only do exercise they enjoy. If you want to walk for fitness, but can’t always get out the door, ask a friend or neighbor to go with you. If you love to dance, turn up the radio and shake it out in the kitchen. Personally, I respond to group fitness because I enjoy the team aspect, so martial arts and Master’s Swim programs are a good fit for me.
Once you find something you really enjoy, the fitness part of it will become much easier.
Will all of this stuff prevent me from having a heart attack?
I can’t promise that. I can tell you that being mindful of the first three and getting check ups and screenings will certainly help. Acting on the second three will keep you healthier for a lot longer.
If you would like more information, strategies and tips, please look at the following sites:
If you would like me to come and talk to your church, group or organization about this, or to come and teach a CPR or First Aid class, please let me know: CPRb2b@gmail.com