With February being National Heart Month, this is the perfect time to commit to taking better care of ourselves. Here are 5 facts you should know about heart disease and disease prevention.
1. Heart disease and strokes are not just disease of the elderly.
Most of you probably know that cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S., with heart disease and stroke being the 2 top killers, representing 1/3 of all deaths. But what might surprise you is that more than 200,000 of those deaths per year could be prevented and that 60% of those preventable deaths occur in people under the age of 65. While there is an impression that CVDs and stroke are diseases that affect only the elderly, the reality is that those diseases are taking the lives and affecting the quality of life of relatively young adults.
2. Thousands of lives could be saved if people recognized the symptoms of a heart attack or stroke and were treated promptly.
The classic “movie heart attack” shows a man clutching his chest in pain and dropping on the floor, leaving little doubt that he is having a heart attack. And while that does happen in some heart attacks, in most cases the symptoms are not that clear and they are often different for men and women.
Symptoms in Men –
- Chest pain, tightness, pressure or discomfort
- Pain or discomfort in the neck, jaw, back, shoulders or arms
- Feeling weak, light headedness, or faint
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms in Women –
- Shortness of breath
- Unusual weakness
- Unusual fatigue
- Cold sweats
If you think you may be having a heart attack or think you may be witnessing one, act fast and call 911 immediately. There are medications available, the so-called “clot busters”; if administered with within the appropriate time frame, they can minimize, if not prevent serious damage.
Those same medications are effective for strokes as well. If they are administered within 3 hours of the onset of stroke symptoms, there is a 75% better chance of having no significant disability 3 – 6 months after the stroke. Think of the acronym FAST to spot a stroke:
F– Face drooping
A– Arm weakness
S– Speech difficulty
T- Time to call 911
To help you spot a stroke using FAST, watch this video from Lafayette General Hospital.
3. You can reduce the risk of heart attacks by 80% following 4 healthy habits. Even small changes in these behaviors translate in significant risk reduction.
- Regular physical activity. Moving from being inactive to moderately active ( for example, walking 30 minutes a day 5 days a week) lowers the risk by 50%.
- Maintaining a healthy weight. For those who are overweight or obese, losing as little as 3% of their body weight (200 lb person loses 6 lbs) results in “clinically meaningful” risk reduction.
- Following a healthy diet. Women in the Nurses’ Health Study who consumed 3 half-cup servings of mixed blueberries and strawberries lowered their risk of a heart attack by 34%.
- Not Smoking. Within 20 minutes of quitting, heart rate and blood pressure drop to normal levels; within 2 weeks, circulation improves and within 1 year, the risk of dying from heart disease drops by 50%.
4. It is never too late to get benefits from improving your health habits.
A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found men and women aged 45 – 64 who changed their lifestyle to meet recommendations regarding the behaviors mentioned above, lowered their risk of a heart attack by 1/3. Lead author Dr. Dana King commented, “We want to emphasize that it is not too late to change, and the benefits of a healthy lifestyle don’t accrue only to those who have been doing it all along, but you can make changes in your 50’s and 60’s and have a healthier, longer life because of it.” Dr. David Katz, Director of the Prevention Research Center at the Yale University School of Medicine also commented saying,
“healthy living is the most powerful medicine of all. It requires no prescription, and all of its side effects are beneficial. It can be tough at times getting there from here, but it’s well worth it and ANYTIME is a good time to start.”
5. Sex is good for your heart. (Maybe I should have put this one first.)
A study published in the American Journal of Cardiology found that compared to men who reported having sex 2-3 times a week, men having sex once a month or less often had almost a 50% increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
I know what most of you women are thinking, this was obviously a study designed and conducted by men. But at least one of the researchers was a woman, Dr Susan A. Hall, and she commented,
“our results suggest that low frequency of sexual activity predicts cardiovascular disease.”
The bottom line is that the heart is the most important, hardest working muscle in the body and when it stops working so do we. Why not commit to take at least one step to improve your heart health? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure which step most men will be willing to take first.