Fitness Facts: Heart health

By Connie Colbert
GCU Director of Health Services

February is American Heart Month. This is a time when all people can focus on their cardiovascular health.

A main focus in heart health is hypertension (high blood pressure), a leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

Take charge of your blood pressure because a healthier heart can lead to a healthier life.

Connie Colbert 

Statistics and information:

  • Nearly 1 in 2 U.S. adults have hypertension, but only 1 in 4 have it under control.
  • African American adults are more likely than White adults to develop high blood pressure earlier in life.
  • High blood pressure in adolescents is linked to health problems later in life.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States. About 1 in 4 Americans will have the diagnosis of heart disease in America. Most people believe that heart disease happens solely to older adults, but statistics show that it is happening to young adults all too often.

What many people may not know is that heart disease may be prevented by making healthy choices.

According to the CDC, you might not be aware of five surprising facts about high blood pressure:

  • High blood pressure may be linked to dementia. Studies show that people who have uncontrolled high blood pressure during midlife (ages 44-66) are at higher risk for dementia later in life.
  • Young people can have high blood pressure, too. Nearly 1 in 4 adults who are ages 20-44 have high blood pressure.
  • High blood pressure usually does not have any symptoms.
  • About 1 in 3 U.S. adults with high blood pressure do not even know they have it.
  • Women and African Americans face unique risks when diagnosed with high blood pressure.

Women who become pregnant are more likely to have complications during pregnancy.

Some types of birth control also can raise the risk of high blood pressure.

African American men and women have higher rates of high blood pressure than any other racial or ethnic group.

The top three risk factors of heart disease:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking

(According to the CDC, 47% of all Americans have at least 1 of these 3 controllable risk factors.)

Some risk factors for heart disease, such as age and family history, can increase your risk, as well, but you can take steps to lower your overall risk by changing the factors you can control.

Other factors that further increase your risk of heart disease:

  • Obesity: Extra weight puts stress on your heart and over time causes dysfunction and disease.
  • Diabetes: This can cause sugar to build up in the blood and destroy the blood vessels and nerves that control the heart.
  • Physical inactivity: See what the Mayo Clinic has to say in this article.
  • Unhealthy eating patterns: According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC, 2018), most Americans, including children, eat too much sodium (salt), which increases blood pressure. Replacing foods high in sodium with fresh fruits and vegetables can help lower blood pressure. But only 1 in 10 adults is getting enough fruits and vegetables each day. A diet high in trans-fat, saturated fat and added sugar increases the risk factor for heart disease.

What can you do?

Well, it all starts with the determination to either prevent the disease or stop its progression. Some simple changes can help:

  • Check your blood pressure regularly.
  • Get a daily dose of physical activity, such as a brisk, 30-minute walk.
  • Cook meals that are low in sodium and unhealthy fats.
  • Take your medications as prescribed and keep your medical appointments.
  • Sleep 7-8 hours a night.
  • Manage stress through, for example, meditation, yoga, a warm bath or quiet time with a good book or funny movie.
  • Try to reach or stay at a healthy weight by moving more and having snacks like fruits and veggies ready to grab when hunger hits.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Manage your current health conditions, such as high blood pressure and cholesterol, by seeing a health provider routinely and sticking to the treatment plan.
  • Make heart healthy eating a priority. Make small changes first and add more along the way. Try to fill at least half your plate with vegetables and fruits and aim for low sodium options. The DASH diet is a great way to start. Here’s a helpful reference with more about the DASH diet.
  • Know your risk, which you can calculate here.

Be good to your heart! It will thank you.

Also, spread the word to others! Let them know the risks of an unhealthy lifestyle. We are in this together!

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Bible Verse

(When Daniel was alarmed by his visions of the future, he approached one of those standing by him in his visions. The presence told Daniel:) "But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever — yes, for ever and ever." (Daniel 7:18)

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