By Dr. Jeffrey Rose
For The Courier-Herald
February is American Heart Month and the perfect time to begin steps to help prevent heart disease, the leading cause of death for both men and women.
About 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year – that’s one in every four deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Coronary heart disease is the most common type of heart disease responsible for most of these sudden deaths.
You can reduce your risk of developing heart disease or having a sudden cardiac death.
Risk factors you cannot control include increasing age (men over age 45 and women over 55 are at increased risk), family history and gender. Knowing you have a family history of heart disease means you have to pay attention to those factors you can control. Heart disease kills more women than men every year and kills more women than all types of cancer combined.
The good news is there are many things we can do to reduce our risk. Quitting smoking, identifying and treating high blood pressure, knowing and managing our cholesterol, relaxing and exercising more in order to ease some of our daily stress, and preventing or carefully managing diabetes are all things we have some control over. We know that people with diabetes have a three times higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease than individuals who are not diabetic. Cardiologists consider the diabetic patient to have the same risk as a patient who has had a previous heart attack.
Watch your weight and be mindful of not only what you eat but how much. Being overweight or obese tends to increase the risk for heart disease, not to mention many other serious medical conditions. Making healthy food and beverage choices is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. Choose foods in “nature’s own wrapper” and avoid foods high in saturated fat (animal fats) and cholesterol. Avoid trans fats entirely. A high-fiber diet will help you manage your weight. Salt (sodium) often worsens high blood pressure, so limit your salt intake to about three grams (3000 mg) daily. Avoid simple sugars like those found in soda, candy and desserts.
Remember to exercise regularly. Physical activity is critical to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Keeping your weight down results in lower cholesterol and blood pressure. The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Get plenty of good sleep. Obesity is three times more common in people who get fewer than seven hours of sleep per night. Poor sleep is also associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and many other medical conditions.
Get regular physical checkups and talk with your doctor about your personal risk for heart disease. Also, take the Franciscan HeartAware online evaluation at www.FHShealth.org/HeartAware. If you are not at risk, you will have peace of mind. If you are at risk, you can get an appointment for a free heart health screening at the Franciscan Heart Center.
Most heart problems can be prevented – some even reversed – through fairly simple changes in lifestyle. Take charge of your heart’s health. Life and good health are precious gifts.
About the writer: Cardiologist Jeffrey Rose treats patients at Enumclaw Medical Center, which is affiliated with Franciscan St. Elizabeth Hospital. Need a doctor? Call the Franciscan Physician Referral Line toll-free at 1-888-825-3227.