Is heart health still important?
Heart health seems to have taken a back seat to other types of health in terms of attention and media coverage. It really shouldn’t though; cardiovascular disease is still the number one killer in America for both men and women, with 1 in 4 deaths being caused by cardiovascular disease.1
Forty-seven percent of Americans have at least one of the three key risk factors for developing cardiovascular disease, which are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.2 The risk factors also include diabetes, a diet high in saturated and trans fats, physical inactivity, obesity, and too much alcohol intake.1 The good news is the nutrition and lifestyle recommendations for prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease are the same! It is simpler to improve your heart health than you think!
What hasn’t changed
Addressing weight for those who are overweight or obese is the first step in preventing and treating heart disease. Reducing overall caloric intake appropriately helps promote weight loss. Regardless of weight status, everyone needs to consume a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and lean meats while limiting trans and saturated fats often found in processed foods. For those with diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, following the appropriate medical nutrition therapy as recommended by a registered dietitian is essential so the food choices you make do not worsen your disease but, rather, help reverse it. The recommended intake for alcohol is no more than two drinks a day for men and one drink a day for women.3
The lifestyle recommendations to prevent and treat cardiovascular disease are also the same. These include smoking cessation and avoiding other forms of tobacco. Getting enough physical activity is also essential. Adults require a minimum of 2.5 hours of moderate intensity aerobic exercise a week just to maintain health.4
Research now indicates that dietary cholesterol does not increase blood cholesterol and therefore, increase risk for cardiovascular disease, contradicting previous recommendations.5 This is because generally the body adapts to the cholesterol eaten—if little cholesterol is eaten then the body makes the cholesterol it needs. If a lot of cholesterol is eaten then the body slows down production. This is not a license to eat as much cholesterol containing food as you want, but a focus shift to total daily amount of trans and saturated fats instead of specifically focusing on foods high in cholesterol, such as eggs.
The Second Edition of Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recently updated their recommendations to remove a minimum amount of consecutive minutes a person needs to exercise to receive the health benefits. Every minute counts, even if you have to stop before the original 10-minute minimum! The guidelines also indicate that physical activity has immediate benefits on blood pressure and insulin sensitivity with long-term benefits on cardiovascular health.4
So is heart health still important? The answer is a resounding YES! Evaluate your health, diet, and lifestyle to make sure you are taking these simple yet profoundly impactful steps to prevent or treat cardiovascular disease. It could save your life!
If you have more questions about heart health, it’s always a great idea to speak with a registered dietitian. Registered dietitians are the only credentialed experts qualified to address your unique health questions.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heart Disease Facts. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. [Online] Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm[Accessed 29 January 2019].
Fryar CD, Chen T, Li X. Prevalence of Uncontrolled Risk Factors for Cardiovascular Disease: United States, 1999–2010 Cdc-pdf[PDF-323K]. NCHS data brief, no 103. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2012.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing Heart Disease: Healthy Living Habits. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention. [Online] Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/index.htm[Accessed 29 January 2019].
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Top 10 Things to Know About the Second Edition of the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. [Online] Available from: https://health.gov/paguidelines/second-edition/10things/[Accessed 29 January 2019].
Berger, G. Ramen, R Vishwanathan, et al. Dietary cholesterol and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Am J Clin Nutr. 2015 Aug;102(2):276-94.
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