As a cardiologist, I encounter death and its consequences more often than I would like.
One death in particular sticks in my mind, not because we had a strong bond, but because his early demise (and the effect on his grief-stricken family) could have been prevented.
When I received the call that a 50-year-old man was being brought to the hospital with a heart attack, I knew that what happened next would be critically important – that a life was literally hanging in the balance - and that within minutes a talented, dedicated team would be coming together with the shared purpose to open a blocked artery and, hopefully, save a life. It’s a remarkable process that occurs hundreds of times a day all over the country and saves thousands of lives a year.
But this time it didn’t work.
Despite every effort, we were not able to save this man. The entire team was heartbroken. Having to tell his wife, three children, and his mother that he didn’t make it – and then witnessing their pain – is something I will never forget.
The fact that it was entirely preventable just made it worse.
And it was preventable.
Research has shown that people at the highest risk for heart disease can lower their risk by as much as 80% by taking 7 simple preventive measures.
Yes, I said 80% – shocking, right? And these measures don’t just lower the risk for heart disease. Those who take these 7 steps cut their risk of stroke in half, lower their risk of cancer by 1/3, and give them the best chance of avoiding dementia.
So, what are these 7 “magic” factors? You would be right to be skeptical of such wondrous claims. We’ve all heard about the “miracle cures” that are anything but miracles, but these 7 factors aren’t a scam and they won’t cost you hundreds or thousands of dollars. In fact, they’re not even particularly complicated. The American Heart Association calls them “Life’s Simple 7”.
The seven simple measures that can save your life – or the life of someone you love:
1. Be physically active.
2. Eat a healthy diet.
3. Don’t smoke.
4. Maintain a healthy weight.
5. Keep blood pressure numbers in a healthy range.
6. Maintain healthy cholesterol numbers.
7. Keep healthy blood sugar numbers.
I share Life’s Simple 7 with all of my patients who are at high risk for heart attack and stroke. Those who follow at least most of the steps do remarkably well. Those who don’t are the ones who are more likely to struggle.
I wish I could have known the 50-year-old whose life was taken too soon. I learned from his family that he smoked, didn’t exercise or eat well, and hadn’t seen a doctor in years. He was a hard-working family man who may not have understood the consequences of not taking care of himself nor known that it was possible to avoid those consequences.
I would have liked to have had the chance to let him know.
If you have heart disease or concerned about your risk, it’s critical to know that YOU can decide your fate. You don’t have to be perfect. Every additional health measure you add will significantly decrease your risk and improve the quality of your life.
We have the proof. Heart disease and stroke can be avoided. The power is in your hands.
R. Todd Hurst, MD, FACC, FASE is a board-certified cardiologist, Center Director for Cardiovascular Health and Associate Professor of Medicine at the University of Arizona/Banner University Medical Center-Phoenix. Hurst spent 12 years at Mayo Clinic Arizona as an Associate Professor of Medicine in the Mayo Clinic School of Medicine, Founding Director of the Heart Health and Performance Program, and the Carla J. and Russell P. Paonessa Chair, Wellness and Health Education. He has over 50 publications in peer-reviewed journals and regularly speaks nationally and internationally at medical meetings, primarily on the prevention of heart disease.