Protecting Your Heart with Life's Simple 7
Tuesday, September 08, 2015
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” - Benjamin Franklin
When Benjamin Franklin coined that phrase he was trying to convince the city of Philadelphia that a fire department would be a good idea. Up until then the process of firefighting basically amounted to scrambling for volunteers after a fire was already spotted. Franklin understood that it was better to try to keep a bad situation from happening in the first place than it was to try to fix the bad thing after it had already happened. As a result, the city of Philadelphia incorporated its first firefighting organization and became one of the safest cities in the world in terms of fire damage.
Researchers today are finding that this same idiom holds true with regard to our health. Not only is it less expensive to prevent disease than it is to deal with it after it's manifested itself in the body, it's also easier to prevent those diseases than it is to treat them. In spite of this, however, millions of people still die each year from deaths that are completely preventable. In fact, half of all heart disease deaths in the United States are due to preventable behaviors. It's estimated that poor diet and inactivity contribute to 310,000 to 580,000 deaths each year according to the US Department of Health and Human Services. That’s 13 times more than are killed by guns and 20 times more than by drug use. And, as you might imagine, that number is going up.
There are several steps you can take to prevent disease. One of the best ways is to visit your doctor regularly for check-ups and disease screening. Common disease screenings include checking for hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperglycemia (high blood sugar, a risk factor for diabetes mellitus), hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol), screening for colon cancer, depression, HIV and sexually transmitted diseases, mammography (to screen for breast cancer), colorectal cancer screening, a pap test (to check for cervical cancer), and screening for osteoporosis. Genetic testing can also be performed to screen for mutations that cause genetic disorders or predisposition to certain diseases such as breast or ovarian cancer. Of all the diseases that are preventable, however, heart disease remains the leading cause of death, not just in the United States, but all over the world.
Although a surprising one in three adults have some form of cardiovascular disease, a full 80 percent can be prevented. We would like to share with you the American Heart Association's recommendations for protecting yourself and your loved ones.
1. Get Active. You don’t have to join a gym or run in a 5K. Start small by incorporating physical activity into your daily routine more and more: Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park at the farthest end of the parking lot or use your lunch break to take a quick walk. When you’re ready, aim for at least 2 ½ hours of moderate physical activity each week. “That’s basically taking a 20-minute walk every evening,” said V. Seenu Reddy, M.D., a heart and lung surgeon at University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.
Up for a more intense workout? You’ll get heart-pumping benefits with at least 75 minutes of vigorous exercise throughout the week. Along with gaining strength and stamina, exercising regularly can lower blood pressure, keep body weight under control and increase your HDL — otherwise known as “good” cholesterol. Exercise also better regulates blood sugar by improving how the body uses insulin. You’ll help prevent bone loss, sleep better and feel good. Learn the American Heart Associations Guidelines for Physical Activity in Adults.
2. Control Cholesterol. We all have cholesterol, a waxy substance in the bloodstream and in the cells of our body. But despite its reputation, cholesterol isn’t all bad. In fact, it plays an important role in keeping us healthy. But a balance must be struck to prevent having too much cholesterol in the blood. There are two types: the “good” kind (HDL) and the “bad” kind (LDL). High levels of bad cholesterol can clog your arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. This is where good cholesterol comes into play: HDL cleans out the bad cholesterol from the arteries.
You can produce more of those housekeeping HDLs by exercising regularly and limiting saturated fat, and cholesterol by avoiding too many animal products such as red meats and full-fat dairy, and including healthier fats such as certain vegetable oils. It’s also important to limit trans fats, too. For some people, diet and lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough. Your doctor may prescribe cholesterol-lowering medication to keep your cholesterol levels in check. If you don’t know your cholesterol levels, talk to your doctor about scheduling a cholesterol screening.
3. Eat Better. Eating the right foods can help you control your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Follow a dietary pattern that includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and other healthy choices. Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., a nutritionist at Penn State University who herself uses Life’s Simple 7 says, “It’s important to choose fruits and vegetables over empty-calorie foods.”
What’s a heart-smart diet? Looking for foods stamped with the American Heart Association’s Heart-Check mark is one sure way to know you’re choosing a food low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Read the full American Heart Association's Recommendations for Diet and Lifestyle.
4. Manage Blood Pressure. One in three Americans have high blood pressure — yet one out of every five are unaware they even have it. That’s because high blood pressure, “the silent killer,” has no symptoms. Keeping your blood pressure in a healthy range starts with eating a heart-healthy diet. Other important factors are exercising regularly; not smoking; maintaining a healthy weight; limiting salt and alcohol; and taking medication prescribed by your doctor.
5. Lose Weight. Extra weight can do serious damage to your heart. Too much fat, especially around the belly, increases your risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. So give your heart a break by dropping the extra pounds — and keeping them off. Every little bit helps. You can shed 24 pounds a year by dropping just 2 pounds a month, and losing as little as 3-5% of your body weight can decrease your heart disease risk. The trick is to increase your aerobic physical activity each week while reducing the calories you take in, to a point where you can achieve energy balance and a healthy weight.
6. Reduce Blood Sugar. Diabetes can quadruple your risk of heart disease or stroke, so keeping blood sugar levels under control is crucial to preventing medical problems involving the heart and kidneys. If left untreated, diabetes can also cause blindness and nerve disease, among other health complications. You can minimize the impact of diabetes on your body — and even prevent or delay the onset of diabetes — by eating right, controlling your weight, exercising and taking medication prescribed your doctor. In some cases, lifestyle changes result in less need for medication.
7. Stop Smoking. It’s time to kick the habit. Going smoke-free can help prevent not only heart disease and stroke, but also cancer and chronic lung disease. The payoff is almost immediate. Quit smoking and you’ll have the same risk level for developing heart disease as non-smokers within only a few years.
Want to see how healthy your heart is? Find out now with My Life Check®.
For more tips and information on how you can improve the health of your heart, visit the American Heart Association today at www.heart.org.