Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. An average of about 630,000 Americans die each year from heart disease-related events, which is about one out of every four deaths.
The most common of these events are heart attacks. On an average day in the United States, someone suffers from a heart attack every 40 seconds. Additionally, every minute there is a heart disease-related event that leads to death.1 Heart disease also costs the United States about $200 billion each year, with major expenses including health care services, medications and the loss in ability to work.2
The largest risk factors linked to heart disease and heart attack include high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and smoking. About half of all Americans (49 percent) have at least one of these three risk factors.2 Other medical conditions that put people at risk of heart disease include diabetes, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity or sedentary lifestyle and excessive alcohol use.2
So how exactly do heart attacks occur? Heart attacks are a result of the blood supply to the heart being cut off. When blood supply is cut off, the cells that power the heart are unable to receive oxygen from the blood stream that keeps the heart pumping and healthy. With no oxygen, these cells in the heart begin to die, and as more time passes without this supply of oxygen, the damage increases.
It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, as the chances of a person surviving a heart attack are largely related to the time it takes for treatment to be administered. Here are the common signs and symptoms:
• Chest pain or discomfort
• Discomfort in other areas of the body such as the arms, back, neck, jaw, or stomach
• Shortness of breath
• Other symptoms such as cold sweat, nausea, or light-headedness3
It is important to call 911 if you or someone you know are experiencing these symptoms.
Stress and anxiety are another possible risk factor to be aware of. Stress from jobs and everyday life is recognized as a risk factor because it can alter the way our body and nervous system function, having a negative effect on heart health. Stress can lead people to adopt negative coping methods such as eating unhealthy, smoking or drinking alcohol.
What can we do to prevent heart attack and heart disease? The good news is that besides age, ethnic background, and family history, all of the risk factors for heart disease are modifiable. As mentioned above, modifiable risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, physical inactivity, obesity and alcohol use.4
The good news is that exercise is one solution that can address most of these factors.
Physical activity, at any age, can increase your life span by protecting you against cardiovascular related diseases, as well as many other chronic health problems. Physical activity has been shown to reduce blood pressure by lowering blood glucose levels and blood lipid levels which are large promoters of cardiovascular disease.
Physical activity also helps you control your bodyweight levels by improving the efficiency of insulin in your body, which reduces the chance of diabetes. Physical activity can help reduce stress and heart disease by becoming a positive coping method.4 It has been shown that 150 minutes per week (30 minutes, five days a week) of moderate to vigorous physical activity will reduce your risk of heart disease by 30 percent.4
Exercise is not the lone solution, however, as diet and tobacco use are also factors that may need to be addressed on your way to a healthy heart. If you are new to exercise, nutrition, or just want or need to quit smoking, there are many professionals that can lead you in the right direction.
Speak to your doctor about possible solutions and resources. Professionals such as physical therapists, personal trainers, dietitians, nutritionists, counselors and support groups are all viable options for getting you on the right path to having a healthy heart.
Tyler Groth, PT, DPT
OSPTI Breckenridge, Hankinson,
Fargo, Fergus Falls
1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. Multiple Cause of Death 1999-2015 on CDC WONDER Online Database, released December 2016. Data are from the Multiple Cause of Death Files, 1999-2015, as compiled from data provided by the 57 vital statistics jurisdictions through the Vital Statistics Cooperative Program. Accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/mcd-icd10.html.
2. CDC. Million Hearts™: strategies to reduce the prevalence of leading cardiovascular disease risk factors. United States, 2011. MMWR 2011;60(36):1248–51.
3. Zheng ZJ, Croft JB, Giles WH, Ayala CI, Greenlund KJ, Keenan NL, Neff L, Wattigney WA, Mensah GA. State Specific Mortality from Sudden Cardiac Death: United States, 1999. MMWR2002;51(6):123–126.