As I have gotten older, I notice that certain body parts wear out, no so much on me, but on others. I think for those who have done much physical work, in construction, professional sports, and even health care professions, some of the joints just were not meant for a lifetime of work and leisure.
But the good news is that heart disease and its consequences are largely preventable. The bad news is that about one million Americans will suffer a heart attack this year. But deaths from coronary artery disease in the US has been reduced by 75% during the last 40 years!!! Statistically, hospital admissions for heart attack among the elderly dropped by almost 25% in a five year period during the last decade. Many experts thought the aging population would cause an increase in heart related problems.
Don’t relax, though, as cardiovascular disease is still the leading killer of both men and women. Much of the intense public health campaigns that started in the 1960s are now at risk due to increasing obesity, and the rising incidence of diabetes. How many of you are compliant with recommendations for diet, exercise, sleep, and other personal habits?
Quite bothersome are the increasing reports of heart attacks in younger people, in their 20s and 30s! But thankfully, a person can do much to prevent a heart attack. One study shows a 90% risk associated with high cholesterol and blood pressure, physical activity, smoking and diet (all within your control). This Interheart study compared 15,000 people from every continent who suffered a heart attack with a similar number of relatives or close associates who did not. Genetics play a role in up to one-half of heart attacks. But sometimes, genetics can be beaten by making wise choices and with appropriate medication.
You should know your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as these are fundamental to heart health. But fully one-third of you do not know these numbers! Optimal LDL (bad cholesterol) is under 100, with HDL (good cholesterol) over 60. Blood pressure should be less than 120/80. These numbers are important in measuring your progress toward improving or managing weight, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. And as many of you have discovered, the Kaiser initiative has placed many at risk people on drugs to lower cholesterol and blood pressure. Within a year of quitting, a smoker can reduce their risk of heart attack by 50%!!!!
A Ten Minute Workout
Three hours as week of brisk exercise is required to maintain heart health. Some of you who cannot find the time to work up a sweat for 30 minutes a day. Do not fall for the “all of nothing” syndrome. Even 10 minutes a day can reduce heart-attack risk by 70% over a year. A brisk ten minute walk results in a nearly 50% reduction compared to couch potatoes. Actual benefit varies by age, gender, weight, and base line physical condition. Those who have the highest risk have the most to gain. But 30 minute daily workouts are the goal.
Get this: for those of you who sit most of he day, your risk of heart attack is about the SAME as smoking!
Eat Your Veggies
The American Heart Association nutritional guidelines are a challenge for most Americans. A good rule of thumb is to only shop the perimeter of the grocery store. That is where produce and other unprocessed foods are found. Stay away from calorie-dense, salt-heavy foods found in the interior sections of the store. As one wise nutritionist says, “Do not put mud in your engines.” Think of your body as a finely tuned engine! And do not skip breakfast, as not eating triggers a metabolic process that leads to eating more during the day!
Get a Good Night’s Sleep Look at it this way.
One less hour of sleep means that you have basically pulled an all-nighter once a week. Sleep deprivation can lead to increased blood pressure, weight gain, and risk for diabetes, not to mention diminished mental and visual acuity.
Go beyond regular exercise. Use the stairs, bike or walk to work. Park at the far edge of the parking lot, or mall. Spending four hours or more a day in front of a computer or TV doubles serious heart problems, even if you exercise regularly. Prolonged sitting is associated with higher levels of inflammatory markers in the blood, higher body weight, and lower levels of HDL (good cholesterol). Get up from your desk EVERY 30 minutes, or work at your computer while standing up. Take a walk over to a colleague instead of emailing. Instead of reaching for a Snickers, go for a 10 minute walk.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy!
Cleveland Clinic’s new heart-health book, “Heart 411” rated the smiles of 230 baseball players who played before 1950. These players were compared to no smile (age 73), partial smile (age 75), and full smile made it to 80!!! While not hard science, good emotional health seems intuitively associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Anger, hostility, and depression have a deleterious effect. Moreover, 14% of those rated above average for hostility based on a personality test had died 25 years later, most from heart disease, compared with 2% for those who tested below average. So, who said the good die young, or that the mean live forever.
Some Heart Resources:
Heart 411 (from the Cleveland Clinic) Mayo Clinic Health Heart for Life
mylifecheck.heart.org (from the American Heart Association)
cardiosmart.org (an educational website from the American College of Cardiology)
womenheart.org (a support group website focused on prevention and treatment of women affected by heart disease).
Definition of a heart attack:
A heart attack usually occurs when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood through a coronary artery — a blood vessel that feeds blood to a part of the heart muscle. Interrupted blood flow to your heart can damage or destroy a part of the heart muscle.
A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, can be fatal. This is often because people confuse their symptoms with a minor illness, like indigestion, and delay going to the hospital. They try to tough out their symptoms and receive treatment too late. Treatment for heart attack has improved dramatically over the years. It is crucial to promptly recognize symptoms and call 911 or emergency medical help if you think you might be having a heart attack.
You must do the rest!