February marks Heart Health Awareness month, and the American Heart Association wants to remind us exactly how important heart health awareness really is.
You hear the mortality rates regularly: more than 600,000 people die annually of heart disease, and another 135,000 from stroke. It's easy to start letting those statistics go in one ear and out the other, brushing it aside and thinking that despite your high cholesterol levels or despite your high blood pressure, your condition is under control and you'll be okay.
New research from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine reiterates exactly how far off the mark Americans really are when it comes to heart health, and how much education and action needs to be taken to see real change.
Research and Results
According to the American Heart Association, ideal heart health consists of the following seven factors, separated into heart healthy behaviors and heart healthy factors.
Heart Healthy Behaviors:
BMI lower than 25 (check your BMI)
Adequate physical activity as recommended by leading organizations
Healthy, balanced diet
Heart Healthy Factors:
- Cholesterol below 200 (untreated)
Blood pressure below 120/80 (untreated)
Fasting blood sugar below 100
The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers assessed 1,933 people between the ages of 45 and 75 as part of the Heart Strategies Concentrating on Risk Evaluation. Participants underwent exams and blood tests and filled out written surveys.
Of the entire sample, fewer than 10 percent met five or more of the seven heart health criteria. Fewer than two percent met all four heart-healthy behaviors and only 1.4 percent met all three heart-healthy factors.
All-in-all, only one person out of the entire 1,933 person sample met the full definition of cardiovascular health.
The researchers admit that a large segment of study participants were overweight or obese, automatically preventing them from receiving the full cardiovascular health "seal of approval." Overall, more research needs to be done to see exactly how prevalent these statistics are in a larger pool of study participants. That said, this should be a wake up call.
If you've allowed yourself to ignore your heart health, it may be time to head to the doctor for a full physical. You may not be able to completely change your cholesterol, blood sugar or blood pressure levels, but you can at least start making heart-healthy lifestyle choices.
Look carefully at your dietary habits, start fitting exercise into your daily routine and for goodness sake, put down that cigarette. These types of changes can really pay off when it comes to protecting your heart and preventing major illness or death.
Sign up for a fitness class.