This is a guest post by Kristen Nichols Heitman, MPH, an epidemiologist in the Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch in the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in the National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She received a Master of Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in epidemiology from Georgia State University.
On January 30, 2015, President Obama proclaimed February to be American Heart Month. Why was it so important to dedicate a whole month to heart awareness? Because the numbers are staggering – cardiovascular disease is responsible for one out of every four deaths. That’s an incredible 610,000 people dying from heart disease every year – it’s the leading cause of death in both men and women.
Nearly half of Americans have at least one risk factor for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, physical inactivity,or an unhealthy diet. Risk also increases with age. Family history of heart disease can increase your likelihood of developing heart disease. Having one of the following three health conditions also increases your risk for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It’s especially important to manage and treat these conditions to prevent heart disease.
The good news is heart disease can often be prevented by making health choices and managing health conditions. You’re never too young or too old to take care of your heart. Making smart choices while you’re young can pay off as you age.
Prevention tips for your 20s:
- Find a doctor and have regular wellness check-ups (at least once a year). Screening for heart disease can lead to early detection of risk factors for heart and other diseases.
- Maintain a healthy weight by staying active and eating healthy foods. Establishing these routines young helps you sustain as you age.
- Cut the salt. Learn how to replace salt with herbs and spices when you cook.
- Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.
- Drink alcohol in moderation.
- Practice good dental hygiene. Some research suggests that the bacteria that cause gum disease can also raise your risk of heart disease.
Prevention tips for your 30s:
- Make healthy living a family affair. Include your spouse and kids to establish heart-healthy habits. Plan physical activities for the whole family. Include the whole family in planning your meals and make sure you choose healthy options.
- Find out if there is a history of heart disease in your family. Having a relative with heart disease increases your risk.
- Learn stress-management techniques. Stress can lead to higher blood pressure and heart rate, which can lead to heart disease.
- Don’t forget your pets in your family activities! Owning a pet may help improve your heart and lung function, and may decrease your risk for heart disease.
- Get enough quality sleep. People who don’t get enough sleep have a higher risk of obesity, high blood pressure, heart attacks, diabetes and depression
Prevention tips for your 40s:
- As your metabolism begins to slow down, make sure you are maintaining a healthy body weight.
- Have your doctor perform a blood glucose screening.
- If you’re snoring, you may have sleep apnea. Talk to your doctor to see if you need treatment. Sleep apnea can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke, if untreated.
Prevention tips for your 50s:
- Make sure your diet contains fresh fruit and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish, nuts, legumes and seeds. Try eating meatless meals to help keep a low cholesterol level.
- Know the warning signs and symptoms of a heart attack. Each year, around 750,000 Americans have a heart attack and about 15 percent of those people will die from it.
- If you’ve been diagnosed with a medical condition related to heart disease, make sure you follow your treatment plan to lower your risk of heart disease.
Prevention tips for your 60s:
- Ask your doctor if you should have an ankle-brachial index test, which measures the pulse in your feet to help detect peripheral artery disease (PAD), a lesser-known cardiovascular disease.
- As you age, your body needs fewer calories. Excess weight can increase your risk for heart disease, so make sure you are continuing to stay physically fit and maintaining a healthy diet.
- Know the warning signs of a heart attack and stroke.
The conclusions, findings, and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors’ affiliated institutions.