Reducing the Risk of Heart Disease
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., taking the lives of more than 600,000 Americans each year. Despite this sobering statistic, the good news is that many of the risk factors associated with heart disease, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, and obesity, can be controlled through a healthy diet and regular exercise.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a major contributor to the development of heart failure. Over time, high blood pressure puts extra stress on the arteries and can lead to an enlarged heart. One of the simplest and most effective ways to lower blood pressure is to reduce your intake of dietary sodium. The average American consumes over 3400 mg of sodium per day, more than twice the recommended intake of 1500 mg. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine predicted the health benefits of population-wide reductions in dietary salt intake to 3 grams, or 1200 mg of sodium, per day. Researchers estimated that this reduction in salt intake would decrease the annual incidence of new cases of cardiovascular heart disease (CHD) by 60,000 to 120,000 and reduce the incidence of stroke by 32,000 to 66,000. By comparison, this reduction in salt intake would have the same effect as a 50% reduction in tobacco use or a 5% reduction in BMI among obese individuals.
Regular exercise is another way to reduce the risk of heart disease by promoting weight loss and lowering high blood pressure and “bad” cholesterol levels. A recent study compared the fitness levels of middle-aged subjects to their risk for heart failure. The subjects performed two fitness treadmill tests that were 8 years apart. After 18 years of follow-ups, they compared the fitness test data with heart disease occurrences. For every metabolic equivalent (MET) that the subject improved between the two tests, there was a 20 percent decreased risk of heart failure. So, a person that went from a 12-minute mile run to a 10-minute mile run reduced their heart failure risk by 40 percent.
According to the American Heart Association, more than half of all people diagnosed with heart failure die within within five years. The best way to reduce your risk of heart disease and avoid becoming another statistic is to begin making simple lifestyle changes today.