Although heart disease primarily impacts older adults, others like elite athletes and those who hold demanding jobs like emergency responders endure added stress on the heart and may find themselves confronting serious cardiac issues.
According to the American Heart Association, a death occurs every 40 seconds in the United States due to heart disease, the leading cause of death in this country.
Heart disease is the overall term that refers to conditions that impact blood flow to and from the heart. Also called coronary artery disease, it is characterized by inflammation and the buildup of fatty deposits along the innermost layer of coronary arteries. Fatty deposits may develop in childhood and continue to thicken and enlarge over a lifetime or result from environmental or individual risk factors that have enabled their development over time. This thickening, called atherosclerosis, narrows the arteries and can decrease or block the flow of blood to the heart, also reducing the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the heart, which can lead to a heart attack or death.
Causes of heart disease can include:
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Physical inactivity
- Diet high in saturated fat
- Family history
Adopting a healthy lifestyle, including a sensible diet and regular exercise, is the best way to protect yourself from developing a heart condition, says Sunal Makadia M.D., F.A.C.C., director of Heart Failure, Sports Cardiology and Cardiac Rehabilitation at LifeBridge Health.
“It’s never too late to start working on healthy lifestyle choices to decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases,” says Dr. Makadia. “Even in the context of patients who have undergone treatment for heart-related conditions, their health can always improve.”
Dr. Makadia and the American Heart Association recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity to improve cardiovascular health. Adding time and intensity to workouts are recommended to continue the positive effects of exercise. In addition, recommendations include avoiding long periods of being sedentary. If you work at a desk or find yourself streaming movies and shows for hours, get up regularly and walk around for at least 5 minutes. Studies show that a sedentary lifestyle can lead to higher blood pressure, diabetes and higher cholesterol, according to Dr. Makadia.
Regular exercise and eating a healthy diet result in cardiovascular improvements including weight loss. However, the best results occur when both exercise and diet are adopted.
“Many people think that weight loss alone provides cardiac benefit, but exercise is just as important,” says Dr. Makadia. “Weight can be considered your ‘external number,’ but your glucose level, cholesterol level, inflammation, and blood pressure are your ‘internal numbers’ that provide a clearer evaluation of health.”
The heart can show signs of distress during exercise such as:
- Chest pain
- Fatigue with minimal activity
- Passing out
- Heart palpitations
- Shortness of breath
Listen to your body as you start or build on your exercise program.
Consider working with a trainer to create a program that is safe for you, based on your individual needs and existing medical conditions.
While exercise is always a top solution for leading a healthy lifestyle, paying attention to family medical history is highly significant.
“I recently evaluated a patient who was a robust, active, older woman accustomed to running marathons and triathlons her entire life. Unfortunately, she developed hypertension and coronary artery disease which ran in her family,” explains Dr. Makadia. “Once she was diagnosed, she was worried to resume exercise for fear of her heart problems worsening. With appropriate medical therapy and reassurance, we were able to safely encourage her and guide her in safe ways for her to resume her exercise program.”
To learn more about the #StrongerHeart initiative, visit: https://www.lifebridgehealth.org/StrongerHearts/StrongerHeartsMD.aspx
Editor’s note: This guest post was provided by LifeBridge Health, a #StrongerHearts Life is Why sponsor.
Wayne, a lifelong Marylander, is the communications director for the American Heart Association serving Baltimore and Greater Maryland. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.