Heart health facts for National Heart Health Month


By Angela Wirth
Special to The PREVIEW
February is National Heart Health Month and, considering that nearly half of all U.S. adults have some type of cardiovascular disease, awareness has become increasingly important.
It is the leading cause of death for men and women, and Dr. Rob Lambert, cardiologist at Pagosa Springs Medical Center, stated that it is estimated that 50 percent of those dying from heart disease are attributable to modifiable factors of smoking, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension and obesity.
According to the American Heart Association (AHA), “We’re becoming more and more aware of the importance of high blood pressure. Levels we used to think were normal we now associate with worse outcomes, and treating them makes a big difference.”
The AHA Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics 2019 Update reports that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the U.S. and stroke is No. 5. Although these are grim statistics, much can be done to prevent heart disease.
Lambert commented that “Quitting smoking can reduce your risk by 50 percent and, within two years, the risk is the same as a nonsmoker’s risk.”
There has been a consistent decline in smoking in recent years; however, there has been a sharp increase in adolescents using e-cigarettes, which accounts for the most-used tobacco product in that demographic.
Something else we must take a serious look at are the lifestyle habits that continue to put many at risk for heart disease. The lack of true lifestyle changes has created what is now called the obesity epidemic in the U.S.
Approximately 40 percent of the U.S. population is considered to be in this category, which is associated with a shorter lifespan and a greater proportion of life lived with cardiovascular disease. There is a clear 1:1 relationship between the number of pounds over ideal weight and the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
Adopting an active lifestyle, which includes 30 minutes of moderate aerobic activity on most days, can lead to a 23 percent reduction in death from heart disease, according to Lambert.
Exercise goes hand in hand with a heart-healthy diet, consisting of more fruits and vegetables and less red meat that lessens risk of stroke and heart disease.
Lambert added that “Estimates now show that risk of stroke decreases 11 percent for each daily portion of fruit. A large study showed a 15-20 percent increase in mortality with each additional daily serving of red meat.”
High cholesterol is another major controllable risk factor for coronary heart disease and can be controlled with diet and exercise. The lower the cholesterol level, specifically the LDL fraction, the lower the risk.
According to the Mayo Clinic, lifestyle changes, including a healthy diet (rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as limiting unhealthy fats) and exercise, can lower your cholesterol.
“When diet and exercise alone aren’t successful,” Lambert commented, “the use of a statin has been demonstrated by multiple large studies to save lives.”
While this is not a complete list of risk factors, and there are many other preventative measures to reduce heart disease, making these crucial changes can lead to a healthier heart and a healthier you.