When it comes to the factors that put people at greatest risk for heart disease, few Americans today can say that they are in the clear.
A study published in the American Heart Association's journal, Circulation, showed that only 7.5 percent of Americans, or one in 12, meet five heart-healthy goals that are known to lower the risk for heart disease. That's three percent lower than in 1994.
Researchers looked at data from four rounds of a national survey conducted between 1971 and 2004. More than 6,500 American adults ages 25 to 74 years took part each time. They were surveyed about five heart-healthy factors, including:
From 1971 to 1975, only 4.4 percent of adults fulfilled all five heart-healthy factors. By 1994, that number had risen to 10.5 percent of adults. However, the survey data from 2004 found that it had dropped to 7.5 percent.
Although more Americans reported in 2004 that they had low cholesterol levels and didn't smoke, fewer had a healthy weight or healthy blood pressure, or were free of diabetes.
Women were more likely than men to meet all five qualities. In addition, Caucasians were more likely than African-Americans or Mexican-Americans. Those ages 25 to 44 also met the low-risk factors more often than their older counterparts.
Physical activity and diet, which also influence risk for heart disease, were not considered in this analysis.
Some experts view the downturn in the nation's heart health as a wake-up call for Americans to take more responsibility for their health.
Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. and accounts for more than 25 percent of deaths.
Risk for heart disease goes up as you age. Having a close family member with the disease at an early age also raises your risk.
But there are many things that you can do to cut your risk, including the following:
Check your blood pressure and keep it healthy. High blood pressure raises your risk for stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, and congestive heart failure. Your blood pressure goal should be less than 120/80 mm Hg.
Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help prevent heart disease. Healthy adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity five days of the week.
Don't smoke. Risk for heart disease is two to four times higher among smokers than nonsmokers.
Control diabetes risk factors. Diabetes raises risk for heart disease, especially if it's not controlled. People who are overweight, have a family history of the disease, or are older than 45 have higher risk for diabetes. In addition, people with prediabetes, which occurs when blood sugar levels are higher than normal but not yet considered diabetic, are 5 to 15 times more likely than those with normal blood sugar levels to develop diabetes.
Watch your cholesterol level. Aim for a total cholesterol level less than 200 mg/dL. As cholesterol goes up, so does risk for heart disease.
Eat a healthy diet. Strive to eat a diet high in vegetables, fruits, and whole-grain and high-fiber food. Choose fish, lean protein, and fat-free or low-fat dairy products.
Maintain a healthy weight. Overweight and obesity raise the risk for heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. They also can raise blood pressure and cholesterol. But losing just 10 pounds can lower heart disease risk.
For more information, always consult your physician.
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Did you know that what you eat for breakfast could help you live longer? New research shows that eating whole-grain cereal may provide extra protection for your heart.
Researchers analyzed results from the Physicians' Health Study, a study involving more than 10,000 men. They found that those who ate whole-grain cereal at least seven times per week were 28 percent less likely to develop heart failure than those who didn't. Eating whole-grain cereal even two to six times per week decreased the risk by 22 percent.
Heart failure occurs when the heart is unable to effectively pump blood to the rest of the body. Some causes of heart failure include high blood pressure and previous heart attacks.
The study adds to growing research that a diet rich in whole grains is good for the heart- lowering blood pressure, LDL or "bad" cholesterol, and reducing the risk for heart disease. This fiber- and nutrient-rich food has also been shown to reduce the risk for diabetes and certain cancers, decrease constipation, and help maintain a healthy body weight. To reap the benefits, most experts recommend Americans eat at least three servings of whole-grain foods each day. This can come from whole-grain cereals as well as other foods such as whole wheat bread, whole-grain pasta, brown rice, oatmeal, popcorn, and wild rice.