From Our Team
Since 1963, United States Presidents annually have issued a proclamation designating February as “American Heart Month.” For me, this year’s American Heart Month hits a little closer to home than it has in past years. Over the last nine months, my father had a heart attack and a number of procedures leading to a triple bypass. His health is now stable. Nonetheless, the series of events reminds me of my own genetic vulnerability.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is a major cause of disability. The most common heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease, a type of heart disease that occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. We often hear about coronary
heart disease when someone has a heart attack. About 6% of El Pasoans are estimated to have heart disease. As we get older, our risk of heart disease increases. Among El Pasoans 65 years of age or older, 18% are estimated to have heart disease.
Even though my father has coronary heart disease and his mother (my grandmother) died of coronary heart disease, I am not pre-destined to have it as well. Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, Medical Director for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, explains the role that genetics play: “Genetics load the gun, but our lifestyles pull the trigger.” The chance of developing heart disease can be reduced by taking steps to prevent and control factors that put us at greater risk. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend five basic lifestyle factors:
· Eat a healthy diet – Eating foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber can help prevent high blood cholesterol. Limiting salt or sodium in your diet can also lower your blood pressure. · Maintain a healthy weight – Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for heart disease. · Exercise regularly – The Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. · Don’t smoke – Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. · Limit alcohol use – Drinking too much alcohol can cause high blood pressure.
Truth be told, it’s not always easy to change these factors. While we have more information than ever, improving one’s diet or quitting smoking still takes motivation and a good plan. The American Heart Association (AHA) makes recommendations to help us to make these changes. Among these, the AHA suggests that we track those habits that we would like to change. For example, many of us are not aware of our level of inactivity, the quantity of saturated fat that we eat, or the amount of alcohol that we drink. Tracking these habits helps to develop a plan of action specific to our individual needs. The value of American Heart Month is that it encourages us to take a moment to reflect on our own lifestyle. For me, it’s a time to be grateful that my father is still with us, to learn from his experience, and to take action to improve my own lifestyle.
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