Heart disease is the #1 cause of death among adults in the United States. More than 600,000 Americans die from heart disease every year, and current and former Military Service Members are at greater risk for heart disease and heart attack than the civilian population. Risk factors are both genetic—including your sex, family history, race, and ethnicity—and lifestyle-based, including smoking, diet, exercise, and sleep habits. People who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or are overweight also have a higher risk for heart disease.
So what can you do to protect yourself and your loved ones? First, know your risk factors. Some things you can’t change, such as your family history, sex, and age. But telling your doctor about your family history can help with preventive care or other treatments.
You can address your lifestyle-based risk factors for heart disease in several ways:
- Exercise regularly. It can help you manage many risk factors such as your weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol. Commit to (and do!) at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity at least 5 days a week. You can even stay active at work.
- Make healthy food choices. Take a look at the U.S. Dietary Guidelines on eating right. Try a few heart-healthy recipes from the National Library of Medicine.
- Get enough sleep. Adults who get less than 7 hours of sleep per night are more likely to have health problems, including high blood pressure, which is a leading risk factor for heart disease and heart attack. (Nearly 50% of those who have served in the military report not getting enough sleep, compared to 36% for civilians.)
- Learn to manage your stress. Too much stress can affect other risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure. (“Managing” stress with risky behaviors, such as drinking too much alcohol and smoking, also put you at higher risk for heart attack and heart disease.) Learn more here about how to make stress your ally.
Reboot those fitness and nutrition resolutions to stay ready, resilient, and fit. You and your heart are worth it.
American Heart Association. (2018). Stress and heart health. Retrieved from http://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/stress-and-heart-health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). Leading causes of death: 2016. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/leading-causes-of-death.htm
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). How does sleep affect your heart health? Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/features/sleep-heart-health/index.html
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2017). What are the risk factors for heart disease? Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/hearttruth/lower-risk/risk-factors.htm