The Change In The Heart Health Paradigm
There was a time when U.S. doctors seemed to regard damage to the cardiovascular system resulting in heart disease as almost the exclusive preserve of American men. But when research finally showed that coronary artery disease, which can lead to a heart attack, was the primary cause of death among American women, the medical community began to place greater emphasis on female heart health.
The fact remains, however, that considerably more men than women die of heart attacks each year in the United States, with the average life span of an American white male about 5 years less than a woman’s. Among African-Americans, the gap is seven years.
Both sexes are at risk from factors such as Insulin Resistance leading to obesity, high cholesterol levels, smoking, and high blood pressure, as well as Diabetes, lack of exercise, and genetic predisposition. But women usually reduce their risks in a number of ways because they’re more willing than men to discuss their health with a friend as well as consulting a doctor.
Recent research suggests men are less likely than women to check their cholesterol levels and blood pressure levels and have them treated if they’re abnormal.
Women generally smoke less and drink less than men. The death rate among men from alcohol-related diseases, including high blood pressure, is 3.5 times higher than women, who also tend to be more concerned about their weight and eat healthier diets. Men consume too much saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt, while eating too few fruits and vegetables. Men are also less likely than women to have a good breakfast (or any breakfast at all), which is a dietary habit associated with a higher death rate from all causes.
Men often opt for the wrong kind of exercise. While women tend to choose healthier forms of working out like aerobics, which lowers blood pressure and cholesterol levels, men often exercise everything BUT their hearts by choosing anaerobic or strengthening activities such as lifting weights. Bulking up with anabolic steroids-again much more widely used by men-can cause several disorders that damage the cardiovascular system and contribute to a greater vulnerability to heart attacks.
Chronic stress and depression can also raise the risk of heart disease, yet many men are reluctant to deal with their emotional problems. Women seem to cope with adversity more effectively than men. They are also more likely to seek help and resort less to denial.
Another risk for single men is the lack of social support from friends and activity groups. In one study, married men who received support from their spouses were shown to be at less risk from heart disease.
Doctors advise that men need to learn that feelings matter, as well as getting to know their bodies’ signals and not denying signs that suggest the possibility of a heart attack. They should get help for chronic stress, share feelings of anxiety, and follow medical advice about physical activity, diet, weight, and medications.
Being a good role model is the best way to steer your children onto the right path. Physically active parents who encourage nutritionally balanced meals at the dinner table can instill lifelong good habits in their children.
Childhood obesity has tripled in the last 15 years in the United States Youngsters are being increasingly diverted from exercise by an ever-growing choice of computer games, videos and DVDs, plus hundreds of TV channels. Inactivity and obesity-related illnesses now threaten to shorten the life span of today’s kids: four million have above-normal blood pressure, 27 million have high cholesterol, and more than a third get no exercise.
Minor shifts in behavior can, however, reverse this trend. Try rewarding kids for not watching so much television and being more physically active instead. Organize regular family activities with the emphasis on fun. Cut back drastically on their sugar-laden sodas and junk food, and set a good example by not consuming them yourself. You’ll feel the benefits, too.
Combating Heart Disease
Nearly all of us are born with immaculate arteries. But as soon as we learn how to feed ourselves, our arteries begin to go from clean to clogged. Taking better care of our cardiovascular system by watching our weight via a balanced diet and regular exercise goes a long way towards countering this effect. Adopting a healthier lifestyle will add years to your life as well as improving its quality.If you pass this information on to your children, they, too, can take steps to avoid premature heart disease.
It isn’t just adult men who are especially prone to heart disease. Even pre-menopausal women, who were long considered resistant to “heart trouble”, should learn to reduce the risk factors that may cause damage to their cardiovascular systems later in life.
When it comes to heart disease, there are factors that you can’t influence, like genetic vulnerability – we can’t choose our ancestors or alter our genes – and the aging process. But there are plenty more areas where the effectiveness of taking preventable action is documented by facts and figures.
Stopping smoking is a prime example. More than 400,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cigarette smokers are four times more likely to have heart attacks and develop cardiovascular diseases than non-smokers. Men have a slightly higher risk than women. On average, lifetime smokers have a 50% chance of dying from a smoking-related disease. But quitting can quickly begin to nullify the risks – it’s never too late to stop. One year after quitting, your risk of heart disease drops by 50%, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Within 15 years, a former smoker’s risk of dying from heart disease approaches that of a lifetime non-smoker.
Lowering your LDL “bad” cholesterol has enormous benefits. Doctors and nutritionists have a wealth of information about low cholesterol diets. Almost everyone who has a heart attack or undergoes bypass surgery is now given a statin, a type of cholesterol-lowering agent, regardless of his or her cholesterol level. The statin drugs that reduce cholesterol also reduce the level of C-Reactive Protein, a marker for inflammation of the arteries, which can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Switching to low cholesterol food is highly advisable.
Controlling Your Blood Pressure and getting it to normal levels greatly reduces the risk of both stroke and heart attack by slowing down the formation of arterial plaque that narrows the blood vessels everywhere in the body – especially in the heart, brain, kidneys, eyes and legs.
Managing Your Blood Sugar is vital to avoiding Pre-Diabetes, which can lead to Type 2 Diabetes. (See Insulin Resistance, Diabetes and Heart Disease.) Although Type 2 Diabetes can be managed over a long life, almost 80% of Diabetics eventually die from some form of heart or blood vessel disease.
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