Clock’s Ticking: Decreasing Cardiac and Stroke Death Rate

Unhealthy behaviors are killing AHA’s heart health goals

By: Steven Nissen, MD

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We’re in a race against time to decrease the rate of death from cardiovascular disease and stroke. And, so far, we’re losing—in a big way. Poor eating and exercise habits are killing our progress toward this goal set by the American Heart Association (AHA). According to projections in the AHA’s Heart Disease and Stroke Statistical Update 2013, heart health may only improve slightly if we continue to stay on this track.

When you look at the statistics, it’s quite scary

Check out our health report card as a nation (and remember these are behaviors we can control with healthier behaviors).

  • More adults age 20 and over are obese (35 percent) than normal or underweight (32 percent)
  • 68 percent of adults are overweight or obese
  • Of children ages 2 to 19, 32 percent are overweight or obese
  • 32 percent of adults report no aerobic activity
  • Among students in grades 9 to 12, 18 percent of girls and 10 percent of boys report less than one hour of physical activity in the last week
  • 33 percent of adults have high blood pressure
  • 14 percent of adults have total cholesterol of 240 mg/dL or higher

So what exactly are we doing wrong?

We’re eating too much, not consuming good food and we’re not moving enough. Physical exercise is not a habit for most of us, including our children. As a physician, I know there is only so much the medical community can do to turn around the trends.

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Real change must come from the community and systems—health institutions, insurance companies, employers, schools, etc. I know you’ve heard this before, but we must all take responsibility for our bodies and recognize that we only get one. Our focus must be on how we can prevent people from landing in our hospitals with cardiovascular and stroke emergencies.

What do we do about this?

For one, take control of your diet and exercise by making positive change. Start small. Pick one meal and give it a healthy makeover. Take a 15-minute walk during your lunch break. Simply park farther away from the door of your office, the grocery store, or wherever. Take the stairs. Wear a pedometer and get moving. Measure your progress. And, encourage others around you to do the same.

Remember that we lead by example, and our children will adopt the healthy (or unhealthy) habits we teach them at home. So turn off the T.V. and stop buying chips. Chase everyone out the door on a nice day. Do something together, and set goals. Try a new healthy recipe every week. And again—tell others.

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If you know you can move more, eat better, eat less and help others do the same, what are you waiting for?

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