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  • Writer's pictureDr. Jenna Zampiello

Heart Health Month!

Updated: May 13, 2019

February is heart health month! Take care of your physical and emotional heart!

According to the 2019 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics update (an annual publication by the American Heart Association), cardiovascular disease continues to be the number one killer in America, with an estimated 787,650 deaths in the U.S. annually. That’s 1 in 3 deaths in the U.S. due to heart disease.

When we talk about cardiovascular disease, there are many conditions that fall under this umbrella term: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart attack, stroke, diabetes mellitus, kidney disease, metabolic syndrome, coronary heart disease, heart failure, valvular disease, venous thromboembolism, and peripheral arterial disease. While much of the attention gets drawn to heart attack and stroke, all of the above conditions are important to include in the conversation about heart health.

Cardiovascular disease and the risk for developing cardiovascular disease is a complex interplay between genetics, environmental factors, and social risk factors. While we often cannot control our genetics or social risk factors, we are able to modify many of our environmental risk factors- such as dietary patterns, physical activity, smoking status, BMI, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and cholesterol.

The 2019 Heart Disease and Stroke update estimates that nearly half of US deaths caused by cardiovascular disease were attributable to poor dietary habits, and goes on to cite that from it’s most recent National Health Survey, only 22.5% of American adults and 27.1% of American high school students reported reaching adequate aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities to meet the recommended physical activity guidelines. In addition, tobacco use continues to be a leading cause of preventable death in the US and globally, acting as a significant contributor to cardiovascular mortality. These major predictors, in addition to being overweight, having high stress levels and not getting adequate sleep, are predictive to the development of high blood pressure, diabetes, and more, all of which are detrimental to cardiovascular health.

So what does a heart healthy lifestyle look like?

- No tobacco use

- Eat a heart healthy diet

- Plenty of fruits and vegetables

- Choose healthy proteins (seafood, plant based protein, lean poultry,

and limited red meat)

- Consume whole grains

- Add in healthy fats (olive oil, nuts and seeds, avocado, fish)

- Low intake of processed foods and high sodium foods

- Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages and treats

- Get in enough physical activity each week

- Children: 60 minutes of physical activity daily

- Adults: 150 mins of moderate intensity aerobic activity or 75 mins of vigorous

aerobic activity/week

- Keep stress levels low

- Get adequate (quality and quantity) sleep

- At least 7 hours a night for adults, more for adolescents and children

- Maintain a healthy body weight

- Get regular checks of your blood pressure, blood glucose, and blood cholesterol

Sound familiar? These are not just recommendations for a heart healthy lifestyle, they are recommendations for a healthy lifestyle in general! Even individuals with unfavorable genetics on their side have the potential to bring about positive change to their level of risk by changing their lifestyle.

Lastly, it’s important to include in this discussion the social risk factors for cardiovascular disease, which takes into account the social conditions in which people live and work- conditions that are determined by distributions of power, income, and resources in our society. Some examples of social risk factors include gender, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, access to healthcare, and geographic location.

Since February is also Black History month, let’s take a moment to discuss the disproportionate impact of heart disease in Black communities:

African Americans have the highest rates of high blood pressure in the world, and are 3 times as likely to die from heart disease caused by high blood pressure as compared to Caucasians in America. Even in studies where statistical adjustments were made to neutralize some of the other social risk factors like socioeconomic status, access to adequate healthcare, and lifestyle patterns, racial differences in cardiovascular disease still persist. In other words, an educated upper class black woman in America STILL fares worse than an educated upper class white woman in America when it comes to cardiovascular health outcomes. The statistics of health disparities in the U.S. suggests that the toxic stress of dealing with discrimination leads to poorer health outcomes. Stress increases cortisol levels, which we know is a key risk factor for high blood pressure.*

The human body has an incredible ability to adapt to change, but it has a limit on what it can tolerate before showing signs and symptoms of failure. Prevention is the best medicine, and a few simple changes can go a long way when it comes to heart health. The doctors at North Seattle Natural Medicine are equipped to assess your cardiovascular risk factors through detailed questioning, advanced cardiovascular lab testing, and personalized recommendations based on your individual risk factors. If you have a known family history of cardiovascular disease or questions about your heart health, make an appointment with us today.

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