Health & Medicine

Simple steps to a healthier heart

Death rates from heart disease in the United States have declined nearly 30 percent since 1998 due to improved diagnosis, new procedures and drugs, and the adoption of healthier lifestyles.

Despite these improvements, a recent study shows that the cardiovascular health of the nation varies dramatically across states. Only 2.3 percent of Kentuckians have ideal cardiovascular health, according to the ABC News study. Lexington and Louisville both received a D-minus rating for heart health. What can be done to improve the heart health of Kentucky? Knowing the American Heart Association's "Life's Simple 7" or participating in the Million Hearts initiative is a good place to start.

Million Hearts aims to prevent one million deaths from heart attacks and strokes over five years by focusing on the ABCs: Aspirin for those who will benefit, managing blood pressure, lowering cholesterol, and smoking cessation.

A healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce the chance of developing heart disease. Small changes can have a major impact. The top three healthy habits to adopt are: avoid tobacco use, exercise regularly and eat well.

Smoking is the most preventable cause of death and disease in the United States. For every person who dies from smoking, 20 more suffer from at least one serious tobacco-related illness.

Tragically, an estimated 60 percent of children ages 4 to 11 are exposed to secondhand smoke. Studies show that the risk of developing heart disease is 25 percent to 30 percent higher in people exposed to secondhand smoke.

Treating high blood pressure and high cholesterol are essential to preventing heart disease. Eating too much salt raises blood pressure. A study released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nine out of 10 Americans exceed the daily limit of sodium (2,300 milligrams), which comes mostly from processed foods and fast food. People with hypertension should limit sodium to 1,500 milligrams a day. Reducing sodium intake, medications, and losing weight can help keep blood pressure in check.

Another way to reduce your chance of developing heart disease is regular exercise — as little as 30 minutes a day is all that is needed. In fact, for every hour of exercise, studies estimate that people increase their lifespan by two hours.

Healthful eating is the easiest change you can make. Make fruits and vegetables predominant in your diet; switch to whole grain bread and multi-grain cereal; eat fish two to three times a week; snack on unsalted nuts; substitute beans and legumes for animal protein.

Knowing your risk for heart disease, making small lifestyle changes, and following Life's Simple 7 steps could mean that you or a family member are one in a Million Hearts saved.