With it being National Heart Health Month, I was reminded of a story my friend posted on social media a couple of years ago. He was out on the golf course when he had a heart attack. This is a friend that is MY AGE! My friend's experience concerned me. I recently read that in 2009 alone, 153,000 Americans under the age of 65 died from cardiovascular disease. This got me thinking about my heart health and the health of my husband. We decided to go online to take The Christ Hospital's Heart Risk Assessment.
After the assessment, I wanted to learn more. I talked with Joel Forman, MD, from The Christ Hospital Physicians - Heart & Vascular. Dr. Forman says these assessments are good because they get people thinking about their heart health and puts in perspective what we can do about heart disease. It gets people to pay attention to their lifestyle, their numbers (for things like cholesterol levels and blood pressure), and family history. Those were all things my friend mentioned. He was not eating healthy, he was not exercising, and his father also had a heart attack at a fairly young age. All of this opened my eyes to the many factors that play into your risk for heart disease. Dr. Forman gave me great additional insight into some of these factors.
BMI is a term we hear frequently. It means body mass index and that is a measure of body fat based on your height and weight. According to Dr. Forman, BMI is a marker for obesity and that plays a role in heart disease. He says almost half of our country is obese. In 2010 over 68% of adult Americans were classified as overweight or obese. Obesity plays a major role in causing cardiovascular disease partly because of the weight itself, but also because of its effect on other risk factors. Those who are obese are more likely to have diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
With high cholesterol being a factor in heart disease, I wondered how big of a role it played. I was shocked to learn how important it is to keep our levels under control. Dr. Forman explained it like this: "What I tell people is you cannot have atherosclerosis cardiovascular disease without the presence of cholesterol. That's what atherosclerosis is, the gunk in your arteries that causes heart attacks and strokes."
High Blood Pressure
Of course, high blood pressure is another thing we need to keep under control for a healthy heart. Regular exercise can lower our blood pressure and help strengthen our hearts. I call myself a runner, but to be honest I find myself only training for events. Well, we all know there are no events right now. That means I haven't been hitting the treadmill or the streets. Dr. Forman told me that physical activity helps in so many ways. "Physical activity goes a long way towards maintaining blood pressure. With diet and exercise, you can get the equivalent blood pressure reduction in someone who's sedentary that you would with starting a medication. So it makes a big difference." Dr. Forman also shared that physical activity makes us healthier in other ways, like reducing depression. In fact, studies show that for every hour of walking, you may increase your life expectancy by two hours.
Within a few minutes, the Heart Risk Assessment helped me learn so much about my health. I'm now more motivated to make some simple changes. Two big things on my list are to get more active and lose weight. For the record, that is always on my list.
If you're looking for ways to improve your heart health, Dr. Forman recommends the American Heart Association's Life's Essential 8:
- Manage blood pressure
- Control cholesterol
- Reduce blood sugar
- Get active
- Eat better
- Lose weight
- Stop smoking
- Get quality sleep
Following Life's Essential 8 and taking the Heart Risk Assessment are a great place to start. If you haven't had things like your cholesterol levels or blood pressure checked in awhile, it's a good idea to follow up with you primary care provider for a physical. They can refer you to a heart expert like Dr. Forman if further evaluation related to heart health is needed.
Don't have a primary care provider? Schedule an appointment online with one near you today!
Check out our online Heart Risk Assessment - it only takes a few minutes.