Cardiovascular Health: A Preventive View
Heather Leisy, MD, MBA, MPH
Cardiovascular disease, or heart disease, describes disorders that affect the circulatory system including coronary heart disease, heart failure, and stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But why is it so important to recognize and prevent the condition?
National Vital Statistics reports show that heart disease is the overall leading cause of death in the U.S. and causes more than 600,000 deaths each year. In South Carolina, the cardiovascular disease death rate between 2014 – 2016 was higher than the national rate according to the CDC with 458.5 deaths per 100,000 people compared to 426.2. The rate in Florence county was even higher at 591.9 deaths per 100,000.
About half of those who die suddenly from coronary heart disease had no idea they even had the disease, according to the American Heart Association. This lack of knowledge indicates the need for more preventive cardiovascular health awareness.
So, what are some factors to look for to help predict developing the disease? Studies show that blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking, diabetes, and other risk factors can forecast the rate of cardiovascular disease. These risk factors can be modified by our behaviors and choices.
Blood Pressure – It is important to check your blood pressure and make sure it is in control. According to the American Heart Association, normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. Higher levels may signify the need for lifestyle changes or medications based on discussions with your medical provider.
Cholesterol – Your cholesterol levels should be checked at least every five years, or more frequently depending on family history and current medical condition. Cholesterol levels are checked with a simple blood test. The results help your provider determine your risks or need for cholesterol management and your cardiovascular risks.
Smoking – Smoking not only increases your blood pressure but damages your heart and blood vessels. Quitting is hard, but it is possible! Talk with your provider or enroll in support programs designed to help overcome tobacco dependence.
Diabetes – According to the American Heart Association, there is a strong correlation between cardiovascular disease and diabetes and those with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease. Ask your provider to see if a statin medication for cardiovascular protection is right for you.
Healthy behavioral changes can help prevent cardiovascular disease. They include maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, healthy eating, and regular physical activity. Meals focused on cardiovascular health means avoiding saturated and trans fats, limiting sodium and alcohol, and adding high-fiber foods. An example could be a plant-based diet rich with oats, beans, soy, almonds, and brightly colored whole fruits and vegetables.
Physical activity of any sort can be beneficial; however, higher intensity activities can relay more heart protection. It is recommended you aim for at least 150 minutes each week of moderate level physical activity such brisk walking, slow cycling, or yard work. Care should be taken with high intensity activities as they can increase the risk of injuries if your body is not conditioned.
Finally, heart health is particularly important in those already diagnosed with conditions such as previous stroke or heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, peripheral artery disease, and diabetes. Ensure continuous follow-up with your medical provider and make sure to take your medications as prescribed.
Overall, being aware and proactively taking steps to aid your heart health will assist in the prevention of cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Heather Leisy is the director of preventive medicine at the HopeHealth Medical Plaza in Florence. She provides preventive medical care and researches and implements methods to improve patient outcomes.