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Main points of the story
Make movement a fun part of your heart-healthy routine
Identify strategies to improve your sleep quality and reduce stress
You can start building healthy habits at any age
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, with one person dying every 33 seconds from cardiovascular disease. Overall, heart disease kills 1 in 5 people.
February is American Heart Month, so it’s worth remembering that taking care of your heart can help prolong your life and improve your quality of life. This week, I spoke with CNN health expert Dr. Leana Wen about steps anyone can take — regardless of their age, current lifestyle habits, or pre-existing medical conditions. Wayne is an emergency physician and adjunct associate professor at George Washington University. She was previously Baltimore’s health commissioner.
CNN: Let’s start with people in their teens and twenties. Cardiovascular diseases are extremely rare at this age. Why should young people start thinking about taking care of their hearts?
Dr. A.S. Lina Wayne: First, it’s important to build healthy habits early. Health is not just about avoiding illness; It’s also about overall physical and emotional well-being.
Some things that people in their teens and twenties can start paying attention to include physical activity, nutrition, and substance use. While paying attention to these issues can help you feel better in the short term, it also benefits your heart in the long term.
Everyone should aim to get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to high-intensity exercise. This doesn’t have to feel like a chore; The more physical activity becomes an enjoyable part of your daily routine, the more likely it is to continue over the years.
Now is a good time to find a sport you enjoy. There’s an added bonus if you can find community through physical activity. Is there a running group, rock climbing club, or swimming group you can join? How about a volleyball, soccer, or frisbee league? Find something you enjoy, and this will increase your odds of doing it consistently.
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Find an activity that you enjoy, such as running, and it will increase your odds of exercising consistently.
This is also the right age to start building healthy eating habits. This includes planning nutritious meals and striving to consume more whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, milk, fish and meat. Other eating habits to strive for include reducing consumption of ultra-processed “junk foods” and not eating right before bed.
Young people should also pay attention to drug use. Smokers have two to four times the risk of heart disease and strokes than nonsmokers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Excessive alcohol use also has harmful effects on the heart. People should follow the federal Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommends having no more than one alcoholic drink per day for women and two for men on days they drink. Also be careful not to use cannabis. Recent studies show that regular marijuana use is associated with higher rates of heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure.
In addition to building good habits early, young people should keep in mind that the damage done to their bodies from unhealthy choices can last for years to come. This is another reason why it’s a good idea to start early by establishing heart-healthy practices.
CNN: What about people in their 30s and 40s? What cardiovascular health practices should they be more concerned with?
Wen: They should maintain a healthy diet and be aware of the risks associated with smoking and excessive alcohol consumption. Regarding exercise, I would like to point to a recent study that found that workers who sit at desks have a 34% higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease than people who do not often sit at work. Everyone should follow exercise guidelines; Those who sit a lot at work should pay more attention to getting up frequently during the day.
This is also a good time to think about two additional factors: stress and sleep. Much research suggests that high levels of stress increase blood pressure and increase the risk of strokes and heart attacks. While stress is a natural human reaction that everyone experiences, persistent high levels of stress can be a problem. Look for symptoms of high stress and be aware of what works for you to reduce stress in your life.
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Healthy eating habits can start early with nutritious meals containing fruits and vegetables.
Along these lines, studies have also shown that sleep is important for cardiovascular health. In fact, some research suggests that sleep may be just as important as diet and physical activity. For example, people who slept less than seven hours a night were more likely to have obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure, all important risk factors for heart disease. It also appears that people with irregular sleep patterns are more likely to develop cardiovascular disease.
There are several strategies that can help achieve better sleep, including creating a regular bedtime routine and eliminating blue light before bed. Reducing alcohol intake can also help.
Finally, many people in this age group may be busy with a variety of responsibilities, including raising children, working, and caring for older family members. Just don’t skip the annual physical exam. This is how you can determine if you have chronic conditions that can increase your likelihood of developing heart disease.
CNN: Let’s talk about the 1950s and 1960s. What are the basic strategies for this age group?
Wen: The prevalence of chronic conditions, including cardiovascular disease, increases with age. Many people in this age group will be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease or major risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity.
Good control of these conditions will reduce the incidence of strokes and heart attacks. People should take medications as prescribed. Continue regular checkups and ensure chronic conditions are managed optimally. It may be helpful to keep a diary. For example, track your blood pressure or blood sugar and show the diary to your health care provider so medication doses can be adjusted.
Many of these conditions will also improve with lifestyle changes. It’s not too late to start exercising, improving eating habits, and reducing drug use. Those who are starting from scratch for physical activity should know that there are significant gains in cardiovascular health for people who go from no exercise to some exercise. People who quit smoking, even later in life, can reverse some of the harmful effects. Those who want to address smoking, drinking and other substance use should consult their doctors. There are a variety of tools to help them, including medications and counseling.
CNN: And for people in their 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond?
Wen: There are certainly ways to improve heart health at these ages as well. All of the above applies with some modifications. For example, some people may have physical limitations, but can still exercise with modifications. Some may need to see their doctors more often, depending on the medical conditions they have. Everyone should pay attention to signs of emergencies such as heart attack and stroke, and not hesitate to seek medical care.
I would like to add one more thing. This is true for people of all ages, but older adults may face some challenges with an often overlooked determinant of heart health: social connection. Loneliness is an epidemic in the United States and globally, and is associated with numerous negative health consequences that include poor cardiovascular health and premature mortality.
People of all ages should consider social connections as important not only for their relationships and emotional health but also for improving their physical health. It seems like small changes can make a big difference, especially if they are habits that have persisted over decades.