Heart Health (Joan Watson)

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Proverbs 4:23

Literally or figuratively, this is really good advice, but the implementation is a bit of a challenge. February is heart month a good time to talk about why we need to guard our heart! The American Heart Association designated February as American Heart Month to bring attention to the leading cause of death in the U.S. for men and women--heart disease. The AHA’s Go Red for Women campaign urges women to make reducing the risk of heart disease their mission. Worldwide, 8.6 million women die from heart disease each year; 435,000 American women have heart attacks annually, and 83,000 of them are under age 65. Forty-two percent of women who have heart attacks die within one year, compared to 24% of men. Under age 50, women’s heart attacks are twice as likely as men’s to be fatal. Overall, heart attacks alone kill six times more women than breast cancer.

Healthy People 2020, published every decade by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is a set of goals and objectives designed to guide national health promotion and disease prevention efforts to improve the health of all people in the U.S. There are several goals to address each risk factor for heart disease, but the number one goal is to reduce coronary heart disease deaths from 126 (2007) to 100 (2020) per 100,000 population.

Risk factors to our overall health are attributes, conditions, and exposures that increase the potential for developing disorders or diseases which challenge our health status. There is good agreement in this country, that the foremost risk factors for adult death (antithesis to health) are: smoking, high blood pressure, high body mass index (obesity), high fasting plasma glucose, high total cholesterol, and low physical activity. Not coincidently, these are among the top risk factors for developing heart disease, the number one killer in the world today.

Epidemiological studies and randomized clinical trials provide compelling evidence that Coronary Heart Disease is largely preventable. Smoking, hypertension, diabetes, abnormal lipids, stress, Type A personality, obesity, sedentary life style, and marital discord have long been recognized for their potential contribution to cardiovascular risk. Strategies to reduce those risk factors are abundant in the literature. On the other hand, the risk factors of age, gender, and heredity are non-modifiable, and therefore only provide additional clarity to our clinical picture.

Recently, researchers have identified inflammation as a possible risk factor. The mechanism of this risk is the subject of ongoing research; it is thought to result from the fat and cholesterol buildup in the coronary arteries and the body’s attempt to wall off the plaque causing an inflammatory response. We will consider this risk factor next week.

The American Heart Association, Get Healthy with Life’s Simple 7, is a seven step program designed to improve heart health.

1. Get Active—Although 20-30 minutes per day of moderate exercise is the goal, recent studies suggest the frequency of activity is as important as the duration. Sitting for hours at a time is not good for your heart!
2. Control Cholesterol—What you eat is responsible for at least 25% of the cholesterol in your blood.
3. Eat Better—A heart-healthy diet is high in whole grain fiber, lean protein, fruits, and vegetables; and low in sugar, trans fat, saturated fat, and sodium.
4. Manage Blood Pressure—Maintaining a healthy blood pressure reduces the strain on your heart, arteries, and vital organs.
5. Lose Weight—Two thirds of Americans are overweight resulting in significant risk of high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, and diabetes.
6. Reduce Blood Sugar—Excessive sugar intake is one of the primary risks to our health today; and that is completely under our control!
7. Stop Smoking—It is abundantly clear that smoking damages your entire circulatory system and other major organs.

The good news is that heart disease can be prevented, and HEART month is a good time to refresh our focus on the small but significant actions we each can take. I invite you to join me in modifying our risk factors toward achieving and maintaining a healthy heart.

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