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A World Heart Day Reminder—Heart Health is a Year-Round Commitment

September 29, 2014

When is the right time to pay attention to heart health? For me, the answer is every day.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing about 600,000 Americans and 7.3 million people all over the world each year.

These figures are startling and we should do everything in our power to reduce cardiovascular-related deaths.

During World Heart Day, millions of people all over the world will gather to raise awareness, sponsor events and advocate for creating more heart-healthy environments, such as healthier grocery stores and smoke-free zones.

Are you ready to commit to heart health today? If so, here’s some helpful information about how you can prevent cardiovascular disease and stay as healthy as possible.

Facts About Heart Disease

Your heart is the center of your cardiovascular system. It is responsible for supplying blood and oxygen throughout your entire body. It operates every hour of the day and every day of the year. To keep your heart working properly, you must make a commitment to heart health year round.

About 65 million people have high blood pressure. More than 7 million Americans have had a heart attack and another 11 million have some other type of cardiovascular disease that impacts their heart and circulatory health.

It is important to remember that 80%–90% of people who have coronary artery disease have at least one major controllable risk factor. There are several other risks for heart disease, including:

    • Blood Pressure: Your blood pressure is one area of heart health that needs to be regularly checked and regulated. Your overall weight can affect high blood pressure (called hypertension). Excess fat increases the work your heart has to perform to pump blood throughout your body. The harder your heart works, the more pressure is placed on the walls of your arteries, which can increase your risk for blood vessel damage.  Lowering your body weight by even as little as 5 to 10 percent can lower your blood pressure and increase your heart health.
    • Cholesterol: Cholesterol is a building block for cell production, but most people’s cholesterol levels are far above what is needed for this process. Controlling your cholesterol plays an important role in heart health and markedly decreases your risk of  heart disease or stroke. The two main kinds of cholesterol are low-density lipoprotein (LDL or the "bad" cholesterol) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL or the "good" cholesterol). LDL cholesterol is found in foods high in saturated fat and will deposit in the arterial vessel wall, causing plaque to build up and limiting blood flow in the artery.
    • Diabetes: Elevated blood sugars lead to arterial damage and allow cholesterol to enter the arterial wall. This leads to plaque build up and arterial blockage. Aggressive control of diabetes can help your body avoid these untoward effects.
    • Tobacco Use: Smoking one cigarette alters the endothelium (inner cell lining of the blood vessel) for about one hour, facilitating damage to blood vessels and allowing cholesterol to enter into the arterial wall. Tobacco use is the only risk factor that is completely avoidable and the benefits of quitting smoking start immediately.

Heart Disease Prevention

Heart disease prevention and making a year round commitment to heart health are increasingly important. Medical therapy and cardiac evaluation help, but the mainstays of therapy are items that we can all do if we make a commitment to a healthy heart. Here are some ways to do it:
    • Exercise regularly. Being active helps your heart and blood vessels. Regular activity helps you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight. Exercise increases good HDL cholesterol and decreases bad LDL cholesterol.
    • Eat a healthy diet. Avoid saturated fat and cholesterol in your food. Eat fruits, vegetables and lean meats. Bake, broil or boil instead of frying your food. Try low-calorie and low-fat snacks, and don't add salt to your food.
    • Maintain a healthy weight. Extra pounds can be a risk factor for heart disease and tend to increase cholesterol levels. Losing weight helps lower cholesterol levels and better control blood sugars.
    • Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure often has no symptoms, so get your blood pressure checked regularly.
  • Know your cholesterol. High cholesterol is one of the leading causes of heart disease.  Get your cholesterol checked and know your numbers. If you need pharmacologic therapy to help reduce your cholesterol, make sure you take your medications regularly.
Your heart works year round for you, and you should work year round to keep your heart healthy. On World Heart Day, commit to learning more about cardiovascular disease and about the best ways to prevent it. Your heart will thank you.