Health & Fitness

Take heartfelt look at your cardiac health during American Heart Month

Heart disease is the most lethal condition faced by millions of Americans and consumes more than $300 billion in the United States annually. Death from heart disease exceeds deaths from all forms of cancer combined.

The cost of caring for heart patients – the disease affects 1 out of 3 Americans – is projected to be $818 billion by 2030. This is in spite of several major improvements in technology. The burden of caring for these patients is beyond financial and will fall upon family members who will need to provide transportation, emotional and financial support and make decisions based on complex socioeconomic situations.

The most striking feature of this group of diseases – including heart attack, stroke, congestive heart failure, hypertension cardiac rhythm disorders and peripheral vascular disease – is that most of these conditions or their risk factors can be diminished or even alleviated before they develop by making smart lifestyle changes before, or even after, the diagnosis is made.

What can you do to avoid getting heart and vascular disease?

First and foremost: Do not smoke. If you are already a smoker, find a way to quit. This is the No. 1 risk factor for developing heart disease.

Next, avoid sedentary behavior. “Sitting disease” is a well-known risk factor, which often leads to decreased mobility, weight gain, diabetes and the increased likelihood of developing heart and vascular problems.

Eating a healthy diet can minimize weight gain and provide the right nutrients for a healthy heart and circulation. Avoid sweets, processed foods, high-fructose corn syrups and sodas. Consume more fiber found in leafy greens and yellow vegetables, fresh fruits and nuts. Limiting consumption of lean beef and pork to one portion the size of a deck of cards daily also is recommended by the American Heart Association to promote heart health.

Strive to lose 10 pounds. By setting this goal, you will tend to develop good eating habits and start a trend in the right direction. Avoiding carbohydrates decreases the size of fat cells in our bodies, which in turn decreases inflammation, one of the leading factors in developing heart attack and stroke.

Finally, take your medicine as prescribed and work with your doctor to make a commitment to a healthier lifestyle. You can begin by walking for 30 minutes a day. Ideally, 30 minutes of exercise five times per week is the best way to make a commitment toward better heart health.

Take five minutes to think about your own health and make a commitment to making good decisions now to avoid complications later.

James A. Smith is a vascular and internal medicine physician with Kansas Vascular Medicine.