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We Know How to Prevent Heart Disease—So Why Don’t We?

Posted: February 17, 2018 at 4:11 pm

I bet you know that heart disease is common. I bet you even know it's deadly. But I have two questions for you:

  1. Did you know it's the number one killer worldwide?
  2. Did you know that almost all of it is entirely preventable?

It's true. Not only does cardiovascular disease kill millions of people worldwide each year, it's also almost entirely preventable.

The truth is, most people don't want to change their life. They have the power to change their life, to make themselves far less susceptible to cardiovascular disease, and they simply don't do it.

But why?

There are several reasons why people don't make those lifestyle changes. Let's look a little more closely at each one.

Lack of information

The truth is, plenty of people don't know the risk they are at, much less how to minimize those risks. Consider that in 2015, 82% of the 17 million premature deaths were in low- and middle-income countries, and 37% of those deaths were the result of cardiovascular disease.

Out of the 17 million premature deaths (under the age of 70) due to noncommunicable diseases in 2015, 82% are in low- and middle-income countries, and 37% are caused by CVDs. The truth is, many of those people simply haven't had access to the information because the medical education infrastructure simply isn't there. We have to believe that at least some of those people would make the necessary lifestyle changes if they knew they needed to make them.

Time, energy, and cost

While in the long-term it is quite obviously more expensive to not take care of yourself, many of us live in the short-term, day-to-day. Exercising, eating well, and taking care of our personal health can take time, energy, and cost not all of us are convinced we have. In the middle of a long week, our day may consist of getting up, driving to work, being stressed all day at work with the exception of a smoke break or two, then drive-through dinner on the way home before crashing after a long, hard day. While long-term that lifestyle is not at all sustainable, there are plenty of Americans who can't imagine living another way. This especially true as fast food is subsidized in ways that much healthier options often aren't, and both rural and urban food deserts can also contribute to difficulties in eating well.

Lack of motivation

Of course, some people know they could live healthier, and can afford the time, energy, and cost, and still choose not to make those lifestyle choices. This is likely the category most unhealthy Americans fall into, to be quite frank.

So what lifestyle changes would it take?

The truth is, it wouldn't take much to make a major dent in those risk factors. The following factors, referred to as “life's simple 7” by the American Heart Association, decrease the risk of heart disease by 80%, stroke by 50%, and cancer by 30%. So why wouldn't you make these seven changes?

Those simple seven?

  • Manage blood pressure
  • Control cholesterol
  • Reduce blood sugar
  • Get active
  • Eat better
  • Lose weight
  • Stop smoking

None of those are hard steps to take, and each of them can help make the other steps easier. For instance, quitting smoking makes it easier to exercise, and exercising regularly makes it easier to lose weight. Losing weight has been shown to help with blood pressure, and also makes exercising easier. Eating better makes exercising easier and has been proven to help you lose weight. Reducing your blood sugar makes it easier to exercise, and helps you lose weight. These seven steps each make the other steps easier, so it really isn't nearly as big a step as you might at first think.

Yet most Americans fail at this simple checklist. Roughly one American dies every forty seconds from cardiovascular disease—that's more than 800,000 people each year! Put another way: Roughly the population of Charlotte, North Carolina dies each and every single year from cardiovascular diseases just in the United States.

So why don't we prevent heart disease? I don't know. But I bet we could all do a little better getting the information out there and helping people make healthier lifestyle choices.

Recommendation and review posted by Rebecca Evans