By Kim Barker
It is nice to be on the brink of change. Hundreds of people are showing up to local running, bicycling and lifetime events these days, all in effort to build better health. Some of us are trying to lose a few pounds, some have already lost, gained again and are back to their fitness regimen. No matter the goal, we are all beginning to come together as a community to ward off one of the most troubling social health issues: heart disease.
According to the California Department of Public Health, “Heart disease was the number one leading cause of death every single year from 2000 to 2008.” Sounds grim, but the good news is that the rates of death have decreased in recent years statewide; however, the rates of death due to heart disease were the highest in Kern County.
So, why the emphasis on heart disease, cardiovascular risk factors and stroke risk reduction? Because most of these diseases are highly preventable!
Simply put, heart disease impacts both the heart and blood vessels, much of which stems from atherosclerosis (plaque buildup). The plaque narrows the arteries, stops blood flow and can create clots; if blood flow is stopped, the heart muscle can die. Other types of heart disease include heart failure and arrhythmias. For now, let’s focus on atherosclerosis.
Although our bodies produce cholesterol for cell membrane structure, to manufacture certain hormones and to produce bile acids, if our levels are too high, we can be at risk of developing heart disease. While LDL (the ‘bad cholesterol’) can lead to plaque buildup, HDL (or the ‘good cholesterol) can help remove the excess cholesterol from the arteries.
High cholesterol is one of the most controllable risk factors of heart disease. If you have multiple risk factors (such as high blood pressure or diabetes) your risk dramatically increases.
We must act within our spheres of influence to do what we can to combat heart disease. Start with yourself. Talk to your friends, talk to your family.
Not sure where to start? Follow these simple steps to reduce your risk of heart disease:
- Reduce the quantity of cholesterol and saturated fats you consume
- Increase the amounts of fish in your diet and eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- High fiber diets are highly recommended
- Quit smoking and reduce alcohol consumption, which can exacerbate the negative effects of high cholesterol
- Make exercise a priority! Walking just 30 minutes per day or riding a bike just a few times per week can reduce LDL and increase HDL cholesterol.
If you are interested in taking a risk assessment, please visit Heart.org and click on the Life’s Simple 7 tab. You can learn more about heart health factors such as managing blood pressure, losing weight, reducing blood sugar and eating better.
A few simple steps – 7 to be exact – and you can add years onto your life! This is change we all should be a part of.