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Why not live longer? Join the fight against heart disease and stroke

Harold Mandel's picture
A heart attack sufferer

Heart disease and stroke are killing off Americans faster than bullets in overseas wars. We would like to think that with all of the media hype surrounding the need for healthier lifestyles and better nutrition to fight heart disease and stroke that we would be seeing dramatic improvements in dealing with these conditions. However, all around us we still see an epidemic of obesity, chronic alcohol and drug abuse, and lazy people who refuse to commit themselves to a daily exercise regimen. This has all lead to a continued high rate of heart disease and stroke.

Heart disease and stroke are continuing to threaten U.S. health, reports the American Heart Association. According to the American Heart Association’s Heart Disease and Stroke Statistical Update 2014, published in its journal Circulation, heart disease and stroke continue to be among the top killers of Americans and they pose a serious threat to millions of others.

In 2010 there were greater than 787,000 people in the U.S. who died from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases. This means about one of every three deaths in America was due to these conditions. Every single day approximately 2,150 Americans die from these diseases. This is one American death every 40 seconds from heart disease, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases.

Deaths due to cardiovascular diseases steal more lives than all forms of cancer considered together. At this time it is estimated there are about 83.6 million Americans who are living with some type of cardiovascular disease or the serious effects of stroke. The total costs of cardiovascular diseases and stroke are greater than $315.4 billion. This includes a consideration of health care expenses and lost productivity. Just about 50 percent of all African-American adults suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease.

Worldwide, heart disease is the leading cause of death as it is in the United States. Every year heart disease kills about 380,000 Americans, which is more than deaths from auto accidents, murder and terrorism combined. Heart disease is responsible for 1 in 6 deaths in the United States. Every 90 seconds another person in the United States dies from heart disease.

Although statistics show that over the past decade the death rate from heart disease has fallen approximately 39 percent, this remains a catastrophically serious problem. Every 34 seconds another American is hit with heart disease. As the number 1 killer in the United States, heart disease steals almost 380,000 lives a year. Among women heart disease takes more lives than all forms of cancer together.

Between 2000 to 2010 cardiovascular operations and procedures increased approximately 28 percent. Every single year about 720,000 people in the United States suffer from heart attacks, and of those there are about 122,000 deaths. There are about 620,000 people who are hit with their first heart attack every year in the United States. And there are about 295,000 Americans who have recurrent heart attacks every year.

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, stealing more than 129,000 lives a year. Just about every four minutes someone in the United States is killed by stroke. Although the death rate from stroke has dropped approximately 36 percent and the number of stroke deaths has fallen about 23 percent over the past 10 years, the problem remains staggering.

Approximately 795,000 Americans have a stroke every year. Every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke. Every four minutes someone in the United States dies from a stroke. Stroke is a leading cause of preventable disability in the United States which causes 1 of every 19 deaths in the country. African-Americans have a significantly increased risk for a first time stroke than whites, with a much higher death rate. I have written about why stroke numbers are increasing and how it can be prevented, in a separate article for Emaxhealth.

The cardiovascular health of the nation is gauged by the American Heart Association by tracking seven key health factors and behaviors which increase risks for heart disease and stroke. These are called “Life’s Simple 7™” and include:

1: Not smoking

2: Physical activity

3: Healthy diet

4: Body weight

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5: Control of cholesterol

6: Control of blood pressure

7: Control of blood sugar

In a separate article for Emaxhealth I have written on Mediterranean Sofrito as being a delicious way to lower heart disease risk.

Smoking remains a very serious problem in the United States in spite of aggressive anti-smoking initiatives. It is estimated that 18 percent of students in grades 9-12 are current smokers. And 21 percent of adult men and 16 percent of adult women are smokers. About one in five nonsmokers who are between the ages 12 and 17 are likely to start smoking. And so even with well documented evidence that smoking kills, cigarettes remain hot sellers in the United States.

Approximately 30 percent of Americans do not participate in any leisure time physical activity. There are only about 29 percent of students in grades 9-12 who meet the American Heart Association recommendation to get 60 minutes of exercise daily. It's vital to stay active to stay fit, and yet there appears to be an addiction to sedentary lifestyles among far too many of our youth. Spending too much time hooked to computer games and smart phones may partially explain this problem.

There are less than 1 percent of adults in the United States who meet the American Heart Association’s definition for what is considered an ideal healthy diet. Believe it or not it is thought that essentially no children meet this definition. The biggest challenges to aim for in going for a healthy diet are reducing sodium and increasing whole grains. Consumption of calories has actually increased over the years among men and women.

In fact the majority of Americans who are older than 20 are overweight or obese. There are about 155 million U.S. adults, or approximately 68 percent, who are overweight or obese. Among American kids, approximately 32 percent are overweight or obese. There are about 24 million American kids who are overweight and about 13 million or 17 percent, who are obese.

Cholesterol control is another serious problem for Americans. Approximately 43 percent of Americans have total cholesterol which is 200 or higher. There are about 14 percent of Americans with a total cholesterol over 240. Just about one of every three Americans has high levels of LDL cholesterol, which is considered the bad kind of cholesterol. And approximately 22 percent of Americans suffer from low levels of HDL cholesterol, which is the good kind of cholesterol.

There are approximately 78 million American adults who have high blood pressure. That means about 33 percent of Americans suffer from high blood pressure. Many of these people do not have their blood pressure under good control even when using antihypertensive medication. A significant number of people who have a first heart attack, a first stroke and congestive heart failure have blood pressure which is higher than 140/90.

There are about 20 million Americans who suffer from Type 2 diabetes. That makes up more than 8 percent of the adult population. And diabetes rates are rising. As a matter of fact approximately 38 percent of Americans have prediabetes. There is a disproportionate burden of Type 2 diabetes in the U.S. among African-Americans, Hispanics/Latinos and other ethnic minorities.

The statistics dealing with heart disease and stroke are striking and yet far too many Americans, and other people worldwide, are not paying attention to the critical risk factors for these conditions. I see people daily saying they know they should lose weight and exercise more often, as they stand in line at the supermarket with their carts filled with sugary soda pop and other junk food, while waiting to rush home to fatten themselves up with this junk in front of their TV sets and computers. When on the run these same folks are ordering more and more fatty burgers and french fries at fast food restaurants, instead of taking advantage of healthy salad and chicken alternatives.

I lost my elderly father to heart disease last year. He was a great guy with a warm heart who loved the outdoors and wanted to live his life on the high seas. Yet, for most of his life he smoked cigarettes and hardly exercised. He also ate far too much junk food over a lifetime, even though he knew fish, chicken, fruits and vegetables were best for him. It was a miracle heart disease did not steal his life until he was in his eighties. If he never suffered from an addiction to cigarettes and if he used the extra energy that would have given him to exercise more often, he probably could have lived at least another ten years.

I therefore encourage everyone to pay attention to “Life’s Simple 7™”, beginning now. Let's all try to make it our New Year's Resolution in 2014 to beat heart disease, which poses a greater threat to Americans and others worldwide than terrorism. In fact the terrorists themselves may want to consider calling it quits with terrorism and joining the war against heart disease, which can hit anybody at anytime.

Image courtesy of Nutdanai Apikhomboonwaroot/Freedigitalphotos.net



I have early onset arthritis so I'm limited as to what I can do. Any suggestions?
Hello Sharon: Kathleen Blanchard's suggestion of water exercises is very good. Also, keep in mind that it is important for people with RA, as well as other inflammatory disorders, such as ankylosing spondylitis, lupus, scleroderma and reactive arthritis, to make lifestyle changes aimed at reducing cardiovascular risk factors. Modifying these risk factors, such as quitting smoking and lowering cholesterol and blood pressure, may help to reduce the known increased risk of cardiovascular problems in people with RA.
Hi Sharon - I was waiting for Dr. Mandel to respond and I'm sure he also has suggestions. As a nurse, I recommend water exercises. They are the best. Get in a pool, but definitely get specific guidelines from your doctor. If your arthritis is mild, just walking is great. You never want to stress the joints too much because then you end up in pain and with more inflammation, which is why your doctor can really guide you for what is best for you.