Keeping Fit: Outlive the leading cause of death | Lifestyles

Via Peters

February is American Heart Month on the Health Observances Calendar each year — and for good reason!

Heart disease kills approximately 610,000 people every year in the U.S., making it the leading cause of death for both men and women. According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you sat back and people watched one day, one in every four people would one day die prematurely from this disease.

Even more frightening, the process begins in childhood — 100% of children autopsied had fatty streaks already forming in their arteries by age 10.

American soldiers and the study of thousands more young people who died accidental deaths from ages 15-34 showed progression even to fibrous plaques by their 20s.

Heart disease starts young. When it comes to preventing this killer, the first truth we must embrace, if we are over the age of 10, is not how am I going to prevent heart disease, but how do I reverse the heart disease that I already have?

The risk factors

In the studies of the autopsied children, the leading risk factor was no different than what has been found among adults — elevated LDL cholesterol levels. They had a step-wise progression in fatty streaks covering their arteries as the level of bad cholesterol in their blood increased. Also of high importance was abdominal obesity — especially in males — along with high blood sugars and high blood pressure. Finally, smoking was also found to elevate risk.


Sometimes medical myths and traditions die hard, like the idea that heart disease is just an inevitable consequence of aging, or that cholesterol and high blood pressure just naturally rise with age.

We now have massive evidence that those things are untrue. Yet, some still believe, and I was one of them, that cholesterol level has only a minor impact on heart disease progression, or that some people just get heart disease with no risk factors. These ideas are largely untrue.

For example, the INTERHEART study showed that for men and women, young and old, in people all over the world, nine potentially modifiable risk factors account for more than 90% of all the heart disease. I already shared with you five of them above, but the rest include psychosocial factors like stress and depression, regular alcohol consumption and insufficient fruit/vegetable consumption and exercise. Collectively, all nine risk factors account for 90% of all heart disease cases worldwide in men, and 94% of cases in women.

The Simple Seven

So as a way of encouraging Americans to take the actions that will prevent heart disease, the American Heart Association came up with The Simple Seven that includes not smoking, not being overweight, being active (which was defined as 22 minutes of walking a day), eating a few fruits and vegetables each day, having below average cholesterol and normal blood pressure and blood sugars.

Unfortunately, when 14,000 Americans were surveyed, only 1 in 2000 (!) had all seven going for them. And in a study of 4,673 American teenagers, they found zero.

The biggest problem? Most do not eat a healthy diet, with as little as 1 in 10 Americans getting even 12% of their calories from phytonutrient rich fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds. A diet with more than half of its calories from these foods is associated with improvement in cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body-weight and a significant reduction in disease risk.

If you recognize that some of these risk factors are areas that you need to address and would like an accountability partner and a step-by-step plan for making the kind of changes that will stick, give me a call at (706) 278-WELL (just ask for Tom). I will be glad to help you.

Thomas Morrison is a fitness coordinator at the Bradley Wellness Center.

Thomas Morrison is a fitness coordinator at the Bradley Wellness Center.

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