Having a Healthy Heart


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Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States, and each February, American Heart Month raises awareness to some disturbing numbers.

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, heart-disease death rates have increased for the first time in decades, from 167 deaths per 100,000 Americans in 2014 to 168.5 in 2015. Stroke, the fifth-leading cause of death in the nation, also increased, from 36.5 deaths per 100,000 Americans in 2014 to 37.6 in 2015.

While experts say it’s too early to call it a trend, any growth in numbers raises concern because many causes of heart disease and stroke are avoidable.

Life’s Simple 7

1. Manage blood pressure

2. Control cholesterol

3. Reduce blood sugar

4. Get active

5. Eat better

6. Lose weight

7. Stop smoking

From the American Heart Association

“Many conditions are preventable,” says Dr. Heather Cha, a cardiologist with St. John Health System in Tulsa. “A family history of heart disease does put one at increased risk of having the same or similar problem, but it does not mean one will certainly have the same outcome. We cannot change our genetics, but we can make lifestyle changes and control other risk factors. There are simple steps anyone can take, including blood pressure control, management of high cholesterol and blood sugar levels, maintaining a healthy weight by eating a healthy diet and staying active and exercising, and not smoking.”

The American Heart Association (AHA) has trademarked these steps as Life’s Simple 7, key factors to keeping your heart healthy and lowering your risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Cha believes anyone can make these simple life changes.

“The steps are not expensive and even small improvements in one’s health will make a big difference,” she says. “I encourage patients to just start with one to two changes and gain momentum from there.”

Along with making good health choices, it’s also important to not wait for symptoms to alert you that there’s a problem.

“High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is referred to as a ‘silent killer’ because there are no obvious symptoms until one’s blood pressure is dangerously too high or one has already suffered serious consequences of high blood pressure, including heart attack and/or stroke,” Cha says. “So, it is important to know one’s blood pressure by having it checked and routinely monitored.”

Cha shares that the AHA and the American College of Cardiology recommend having your cholesterol checked every four to six years if you are 20 years old or older and have not been diagnosed with a cardiovascular problem. She adds, however, that you may have to have your cholesterol and other risk factors assessed more often if your risk of developing heart disease is higher.