Several years ago I had a pivotal moment pertaining to heart health. I had just returned from visiting my family out of town. We celebrated my aunt and uncle’s 50th wedding anniversary. What an amazing milestone and achievement!
This event got me thinking about family, longevity, and the future. According to statistics, almost a million Americans – 920,000 to be exact – will have a heart attack in the next year. Worse, not all of them will have had any warning signs.
Obviously, everyone’s health situation is different and nothing I share in this article is medical advice. That said, I hope that the following statistics and general ideas for living a healthier life give you plenty to discuss with your doctor on your next visit.
It’s Time to Take Heart Health Seriously
Did you know that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S.? Every year, 800,000 Americans die from heart disease, strokes, and other cardiovascular diseases. This problem is not limited to the U.S. either. For the first time, the American Heart Association has tracked statistics from more than 190 countries. The results?
Heart disease remains the #1 cause of death worldwide, with 17.3 million deaths each year. In addition, stroke is the number 2 global killer.
3 Scary Facts About Heart Disease
Do you know what the most common symptom of heart disease is? Sudden death. Now, I always thought a symptom was a warning sign that could scare me into action… but there is no action after death.
This is especially tragic when you consider that over 80% of heart disease is preventable through lifestyle and diet modifications.
The third fact? A research study published by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that, among Americans, aged 30 to 74, most have hearts that have aged beyond their chronological years.
So let me summarize what we know so far.
The most common symptom of heart disease is sudden death. Heart disease is largely preventable. Most of us think we are just fine, thank you very much. The scary truth, however, is that many of us (myself included) have hearts that are older than we are!
Heart Disease Risk Factors
In many ways, understanding the risk factors for heart disease is the key to prevention.
In fact, researchers were surprised at how powerful a healthy lifestyle could be, noting:
“It is not surprising that healthy lifestyle choices would lead to a reduction in heart attacks… What is surprising is how drastically the risk dropped due to these factors. Unfortunately, most people are ignoring the impact healthy lifestyles could have on their lives. One study, for instance, involved men aged 45 to 79… and only 1 percent of them engaged in all five of the “low-risk” behaviors that could prevent a heart attack.”
These Healthy Lifestyle Changes Could Save Your Life
Follow a healthy diet. Avoid foods that are high in fat, salt, sugar, and LDL (bad cholesterol). Bad cholesterol contributes to the formation of plaque – a thick, hard deposit that can clog blood vessels and make them less flexible.
Increase your physical activity. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), exercising 30 minutes a day, five days a week will improve your heart health and help reduce your risk of heart disease. Make 30 minutes a day the minimum!
Get your weight down, if necessary. Aim for a healthy waist circumference, less than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men.
Keep alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.
Stop smoking, plain and simple. Get help if you need to but just do it.
Here are a few tips for getting rid of your bad habits after 60.
True Age vs. Functional Age
Did you know that there is a difference between your functional age and your chronological age and it affects your heart health?
Your functional age is your REAL age. It reflects your overall physical ability to complete daily tasks such as gardening, carrying your one-year-old grandchild, and doing household chores. Some people who are the same age as you and I can literally run circles around us; their functional age is likely lower than their true age.
Others, who may have the same true age as us, aren’t able to walk to the store or ride their bike a mile or two. These women likely have a functional age that is higher than their true age, in years.
The bottom line is that the decisions that we make now, in terms of our fitness, diet, and habits, matter! It’s empowering to realize how much control we have over our health. Here’s to a bright future!
What healthy lifestyle changes have you made recently? How do you take care of your heart? Have you neglected your heart health due to recent world crises? Please share what has been easy to change – and what you struggled with. Join the conversation.