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We are pleased to share a blog post from Dr. Robert Carr, president of the American College of Preventive Medicine.
Preventive medicine specialists are trained in both clinical medicine and public health, and are equipped to understand and reduce the risks of disease, disability and death in individuals and in population groups.
In the month of February, we’re recognizing Heart Health Month and today, more than 92 million Americans are living with some form of cardiovascular disease. As the leading cause of death in the United States, heart disease results in 800,000 deaths each year. Fortunately, there has been progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular diseases in recent years, with death rates dropping significantly since 1980. This decline is driven in large part by behavioral changes in lifestyle, diet, exercise and better awareness of risk. Physicians and other health care providers are becoming more attuned to lifestyle to help their patients lead healthier lifestyles, thanks to the emerging science of lifestyle medicine made available from groups like the American College of Preventive Medicine. By making smart decisions regarding your heart health, you can improve your overall health outcomes and your quality of life.
In the United States, a large share of the declining mortality rate from heart disease is the significant drop in smoking. Smoking increases the chance of heart attack by damaging the lining of your arteries, leading to a buildup of fatty material that narrows the artery, while simultaneously reducing the oxygen content in blood. It’s estimated that smokers are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack or cardiovascular event as non-smokers.
More effectively managing life pressures can also make heart healthy habits more attainable. Stress often leads to coping mechanisms like smoking, overeating, alcohol or inactivity. By recognizing stress and actively mitigating its effects with healthy activities, the way forward can be less daunting. Mindfulness, yoga, taking a short walk, connecting with someone you care about, humor and music therapy are just a few examples of ways to renew energy, relieve the negative effects of stress and add healthy activities for your heart and overall well-being. In our busy lives we often think we don’t have time to add new things. When feeling overloaded, taking a moment to create stillness to ‘reboot your mind’ can have an immediate positive effect. Think about ways to add these microbursts of renewal throughout your day.
Often people are reminded or think about improving diet and exercise, but getting started is half the battle. Incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet can be accomplished through simple substitutions. Cutting back on foods high in cholesterol, salt, and sugar by replacing them with healthier options can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Fortunately, the benefits of healthy eating go far beyond your heart. It is fun to discover new recipes, improve your cooking and kitchen skills, and introduce new flavors and foods to your life.
Increasing your level of activity is important as well. One simple approach is to sit less and to take a movement break every 30 minutes. A recent study found as your total sitting time increases, so does your risk of an early death.
The positive news: People who sat for less than 30 minutes at a time had the lowest risk of early death.
Increasing other forms of activity can also be a game of substitution. Take the stairs rather than the elevator, take a half-hour on your lunch break to go for a walk, or attend an exercise class with friends. Where people often falter is thinking they must dramatically shift their daily activities.
Simple small steps toward a healthier diet and more activity can begin your journey toward strengthening your heart and improving your overall health and future quality of life.
Dr. Carr (MD, MPH, FACPM) is a physician leader, educator, consultant and board member and is currently the President of the American College of Preventive Medicine, the professional society for physicians dedicated to preventive medicine and population health. He is also Director of the Executive Master’s program and Associate Professor in Health Systems Administration, with special focus on leadership, innovation and health care delivery at Georgetown University.
Guest Contributor The Catalyst welcomes guest contributors, including patients, stakeholders, innovators and others, to share their perspectives and point of view on issues facing our industry and the health care system.