At the heart of America’s health woes is, well, the heart. Though the American Heart Association recently released reports of a 25 percent reduction in death rates from coronary heart disease and stroke (ahead of the organization’s 2010 goal), cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in Utah and the nation.
More than 4,000 Utahns die of cardiovascular disease every year and one in 100 Utahns were hospitalized with CDV-related illness in 2005, according to the Utah Department of Health’s 2007 Burden Report. Showing that four-chambered pump a little love can be achieved through some relatively basic lifestyle changes. As Dr. Frank Yanowitz, medical director for Intermountain Health & Fitness at LDS Hospital, puts it, “You can’t change your genes, but you can change your habits.”
Take that ticker for a walk
“I call it the 11th commandment,” says Yanowitz. “Thou shalt exercise.”
Given America’s “increasingly sedentary and overweight population,” Yanowitz and his colleagues tout physical activity’s virtues for cardiovascular health and prevention against all manner of ailments. Studies have shown exercise as contributing to everything from lowering cholesterol to improving mental health. “It is the universal therapy for most chronic diseases,” says Yanowitz.
Yes, exercise can mean anything from dancing to skiing to playing softball. Moderate physical activity can also be housework, yard work or brisk walking (not strolling). When trying to break into a regular exercise regimen, Yanowitz advises instituting simple changes in routine like walking up stairs instead of taking the elevator or parking a greater distance from the grocery store.
“You don’t have to be skinny to exercise,” says Dr. Donald Lappe, chief of cardiology at Intermountain Healthcare, who points out that overweight individuals can reap the rewards of daily exercise as effectively, if not more so, as their more physically fit counterparts.
Lappe and Dr. Mary Parson, medical director for the University of Utah’s Redstone Health Clinic, concur with Yanowitz that 30 to 45 minutes of moderate exercise almost every day is a good way to help prevent cardiovascular disease. Yanowitz adds that 30 minutes can be broken up into 10 to 15 minutes segments throughout the day.
“Moderate means you get your heart rate up, but you can still carry on a conversation,” explains Parsons, who recommends setting achievable goals. All three physicians suggest purchasing a pedometer as a way to measure walking goals; the AHA recommends 10,000 steps per day.
Increase veggies; Kick tobacco
Aside from regular exercise, a heart-healthy diet and smoke-free existence are also important ways to prevent cardiovascular problems. Yanowitz suggests increasing intake of fruits, vegetables and Omega 3 fatty acids (such as nuts and salmon), substituting lean cuts of meat for high fat and processed products, avoiding high-fat dairy and substituting whole grains for white carbohydrates (such as bread and rice).
Staying away from sugars, trans fats and saturated fats is also important, according to Lappe.
“If there is one thing in the American diet you should stay away from, it’s sugared soda,” says Parsons.
Don’t just take your car in for regular checks
Every individual should be aware of his or her lipid profile (cholesterol make-up), glucose levels and blood pressure. According to Lappe, cholesterol tests should start at age 20 with new tests every five years, glucose at age 45 and every three years thereafter and blood pressure monitoring at age 20 with check-ups every other year.
Keep your head about your heart
Though medicine has made “major strides” during the past 20 years in the arena of heart disease, according to Lappe, a quarter of a million people die each year at their first manifestation of heart disease, such as a heart attack.
Healthy lifestyle habits are the best prevention for the general population, Lappe says. Some folks choose to invest in a tailored approach to prevention such as Intermountain Health & Fitness Institute’s Executive Wellness Plan, a custom diet and exercise plan offered at LDS Hospital.
Routine stress tests are out, given their inaccuracies. However, if a patient demonstrates two or more risk factors (such as diabetes or hypertension), a physician may proceed with increas-ingly sophisticated and relatively inexpensive imaging.
For the regular Joe, the best prevention may just be what you’ve heard a million times: healthy eating, regular exercise and staying abreast of cholesterol and glucose levels and blood pressure.
As Lappe says, “If you don’t smoke and don’t eat too much, you’ll save a lot of money.”