As we enter 2016, heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases remain the top killer of men and women in the United States, according to the American Heart Association’s latest update on Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics published in the journal Circulation.
The report based much of it’s findings on data collected about mortality in the U.S. in 2013 as well as results from the 2009–2012 NHANES study, which surveys Americans about their health, diet, and lifestyle.
While there is still much to be done to prevent and treat cardiovascular illnesses, there was a silver lining to the report: we are making significant progress. In fact, from 2003 to 2013 the number of heart-related deaths declined by 12% and the number of deaths from stroke declined by 18% in the United States.
That being said, poor lifestyle behaviors were sited as the biggest cause of death and disability in the United States, which means the #1 killer of adults in America is, to a large extent, preventable.
For example, factors like smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, and poor diet all raise your cardiovascular risk in a substantial way. But in 2014, only half of American adults reporting meeting the current physical activity guidelines (which recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week). And in 2012, fewer than 1% of children and 1.5% of adults had a diet that lived up to current dietary guidelines.
In addition to poor lifestyle behaviors, medical conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes were also sited as playing a huge role in cardiovascular health. These conditions raise your risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as a number of other health conditions. Unfortunately, it has been estimated that less than half of adults have ideal cholesterol levels, and nearly one-third of American adults have high blood pressure. Again, with proper management we could be preventing many of these heart-related conditions.
Another factor to keep in mind is that minorities still face higher rates of heart disease, stroke, and other heart conditions than white Americans. With heart disease accounting for 1 in 3 US deaths in 2013, it’s especially important for minorities to understand their individual level of health and take meaningful stepts to prevent disease and improve outcomes for heart disease.
If we as a nation are going to continue to lower rates of heart-related deaths, we have to address both lifestyle choices and existing cardiovascular risk factors. With doctors and patients working hand and hand to address them, we can collectively do a much better job at preventing heart disease and improving outcomes.
Not sure where you stand in regards to your cardiovascular health? Use the American Heart Associations My Life Check® to determine what your heart score is and get simple suggestions on how to improve it. The guidelines they set forth, called “Life’s Simple 7,” will address your diet, physical activity, smoking, weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. Together, we can all improve the length and quality of our lives.
Andrew Rudin MD is a Cardiologist in New York. To learn more about his experience, please visit his main website.