Keep your heart healthy

How to reduce your risk of developing heart disease

Heart disease is the No.1 cause of death in the world and the leading cause of death in the United States.

It is responsible for about 800,000 deaths each year.

Approximately 2,200 Americans die of heart disease each day — an average of one death every 40 seconds.

Each year, more than 900,000 Americans have a heart attack — more than 50,000 women die within a year of their first heart attack.

Heart disease disables, takes lives and disrupts families. But heart disease is not inevitable, and there is much that you can do to preserve your cardiovascular health.

The burden of cardiovascular diseases goes beyond lives lost and changed. There’s also a fiscal toll. Taking into consideration hospitalizations, doctor visits, tests, medications, time lost from work and long-term care for disability, costs in this country for cardiovascular disease exceed $300 billion a year.

We are making progress, though. Deaths from cardiovascular disease in the first decade of this century have decreased by 30 percent. This is due to fewer people smoking, more people exercising and drugs that lower cholesterol and prevent blood clots to reduce the risk of heart attacks. That’s the good news. The bad news is progress is stalling and we must enhance our efforts.

Here are steps you can take to improve your heart health and reduce your risk of heart disease:

• Eat a heart-healthy diet, which includes fruits and vegetables, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fiber-rich whole grains, lean meats, poultry and fish. Read nutrition labels, and limit saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars.

• Stay active and exercise. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise. Walking for as few as 30 minutes a day provides heart health benefits.

• Get your blood pressure measured, and if it is high, make sure it is treated. One out of three adults has high blood pressure. It is a major cause of heart disease, stroke and kidney disease.

• If you smoke, stop. Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Even secondhand smoke is harmful. One year after quitting, your risk of coronary artery disease is cut in half. Speak to your health care provider who can recommend counseling and medications to help you quit.

• Get your cholesterol and blood sugar checked. High cholesterol and diabetes cause heart disease.

Habits are hard to break, but, if you make these lifestyle changes, you have increased your chances for a longer, healthier life.

Dr. Mark Creager is the director of the Heart and Vascular Center at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and a past president of the American Heart Association.

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