A Long Road Ahead to Heart Health

by | Mar 15, 2011 | Articles, Conditions, Heart

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh, PA have released a sobering analysis of just how heart healthy the average American is and the results are a bit depressing.  Based on the American Heart Association’s (AHA) 2020 Impact Goal for good cardiovascular health only 1 in 2000 participants had ideal heart risk.  That’s right, only 1 in 2000 people.

The seven components of ideal cardiovascular health as outlined by the AHA include 4 ideal health behaviors:

  • Not currently smoking.
  • Body-mass index (BMI) <25 kg/m2.
  • Physically “very active.”
  • Consumption of three or more servings per day of fruits and vegetables.

and three ideal health factors:

  • Total cholesterol <200 mg/dL untreated.
  • Systolic BP <120 mm Hg and diastolic BP <80 mm Hg untreated.
  • Fasting plasma glucose (FPG) <100 mg/dL untreated.

In addition, the indices of ideal health behaviors and ideal health factors were met by only 2.0% and 1.4% of participants, respectively.

The study points out the hard work we have before us if we hope to lower our chances of heart disease.  “Our findings add to previous reports that have demonstrated low prevalence of healthy lifestyles and health factors, both individually and in combination, in the general population and in ongoing epidemiological studies,” say the researchers.

I’ve written numerous articles in these pages that outline various steps to achieve ideal cardiovascular health.   A broad summary is to simply eat right and exercise to maintain ideal body weight.  That will usually take care of the cholesterol, blood sugar and blood pressure issue.  And don’t smoke…

Consumption of “three or more fruits and vegetables” the AHA recommends.  Insightful doctors and nutritionists agree that 6-8 servings per day of fruits and vegetables are closer to what nature intended for us.  Furthermore, it should be the whole foods that actually contain the expected nutrients and enzymes.  Did you realize 50% of the nutrients and all the enzymes are lost in canned vegetables?  I’d also suggest organic, not just to avoid the applied toxins, but again to get foods that come from nutrient rich organic soils.  Remember the best fruits are the heart friendly colorful berries, and the ideal veggies are the greens, with colorful yellow, red, orange and purples.

Cut out the sugar and moderate high-glycemic breads, potatoes and pastas.  Avoid the saturated fats (beef twice per month?) and go for fish, venison, and poultry.  Easy on the butter and have a daily serving of heart friendly olive oil.

Exercise is a normal part of our physiology.  We will not be healthy without some, period.  The ideal is to share time focusing on flexibility (stretching, yoga, tai chi), strength (weights) and aerobic endurance (walking, running, biking).  A few months ago I outlined the principles of high-intensity interval training as a very effective, very efficient way to get in enough aerobic exercise in a short 22 minute session.   Get some new walking shoes, get a trainer, get a gym membership, get a workout buddy, just get moving!

I have written on strategies for weight loss and outlined hormones that can pack on pounds and hormones that can help take off the pounds.  If you struggle with weight despite eating well and exercising then there is likely an underlying hormone disorder that is blocking your progress.  Get evaluated by someone who specializes in disorders such as thyroid and sex hormones, and who understands the role of metabolic hormones such as insulin, leptin and glucagon.

Remember that mental health plays a role in all of the above.   Sometimes good behavioral changes are stymied by issues of stress, anxiety or depression.  Diet and exercise help mental health so we have a vicious circle brewing for many people who feels depressed and have poor health habits.  Start with diet and exercise, and absolutely seek counsel if you don’t feel as well as you think you should.  I always try to start with cognitive training and basic health habits but sometimes supplements or medications are necessary to treat mood disorders.

Quitting smoking is arguably the single most important thing for a person’s health and usually leads to better health habits overall.  Only 1 in 20 people will quit without assistance, so get help!  Ask your doctor for help.  My patients and readers know I am not a big pill pusher type of physician, but I’ll say that the medications to help quit smoking work pretty darn well and I’ve had dozens of hard-core smokers quit using some of the newer medications.  I’ve also had many quit by using hypnosis or acupuncture.

I’d like to think that our Western Colorado population would fare much better on the heart risk analysis, since we are routinely the skinniest most active state in the Union.  Maybe I’ll repeat this study in my own patients and see how we fare.  I would only pass 5 out of the 7 ideal factors – not bad, so I’ll keep working on it!

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Thanks for sharing this article!