When my son Spencer was five years old I tried to explain to him what I did when I went to work. I explained I took care of people’s hearts.
“Why can’t the people take care of their own hearts?” he asked. Of course, I laughed but it remains relevant a decade later.
Why can’t people take care of their own hearts? I think the answer is complicated, but rooted in one simple problem: They don’t really know how to prevent heart disease.
But here’s the secret: the medical system is geared toward treating people who are sick. They are only now starting to figure out how much better it is to prevent people from getting sick.
People have become much more proactive about prevention in the world of cancer, diligently planning their mammograms, colonoscopies and skin screenings. Yet people are far less proactive about heart health.
But we have a ways to go: Heart disease is the #1 killer of all women, more than all cancers combined, according to the American Heart Association. So perhaps our prevention efforts need to be spread around a bit more.
Consider this: According to the Gates Foundation we now spend more than $194 billion a year just to treat women’s heart disease. This money is spent on doctors to treat patients when you’re at great risk. But we know 80 percent of heart disease is preventable, if we could teach you to care for your own hearts through prevention, just as my young son once suggested.
Imagine what we could do with a fraction of that invested in preventing disease in the first place?
Education and Empowerment for Heart Health
In the simplest terms, you can’t change what you don’t know.
The AHA calls the biggest risks, “Life’s Simple 7,” which are seven factors that, when optimized, are generally considered to prevent 80% of heart disease cases. These seven factors to prevent heart disease are:
- Cholesterol level
- Blood pressure
- Blood sugar level
- Body mass index (your weight)
- Whether you exercise
- What you eat
- Whether you smoke
Now these seem pretty simple, but I want to set you up for success, so I’m going to make it even easier. I’m going to focus on the BIG THREE:
- Blood Pressure, aka the silent killer
- Cholesterol levels
Get these three in line and you are so ahead of the curve to health and wellness!
Go get a physical. Your doctor is probably going to talk to you about these major risk factors of heart disease.
Why? Because the biggest risk factors for heart disease are all bundled in these 3 risks, but here is the amazing thing…these are mostly due to our lifestyle choices. I am not saying that if you have a strong family history, these might not be elevated due to that, but I am saying 80% of the time, it is in our control, so let’s start with that totally empowering fact. It is up to US!
When you are carrying around too much weight, or you are not eating right, or not moving enough, the blood pressure goes up, the cholesterol goes up and the sugars become elevated.
The most amazing thing is when you figure out how to live from the heart—meaning you live in a way that makes you feel as good as you can—you can live with vitality and total health and well-being. If you actually live from the heart, by eating right and exercising, sleeping well and paying attention to how you feel, you can figure out how to decrease these numbers and get them to the levels that are the best for you.
Even decreasing by 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure, cholesterol and sugars. It’s such a direct and easy fix. Lose some weight and remove the three biggest threats! Cutting out that bagel in the morning might make the difference between diabetes. Cutting back on the amount of meat you eat may be just what you need to lower your cholesterol.
I promise you, this is do-able, but you have to be ready to do it. I promise you, cutting out the cookies after dinner, or that midnight bowl of ice cream is not going to kill you. It might make you feel sad for a while, but compared to how good you are going to feel, it is going to be worth it.
Photo Credit: Ariel Skelley / The Image Bank via Getty Images
Important: The opinions expressed in WebMD Blogs are solely those of the User, who may or may not have medical or scientific training. These opinions do not represent the opinions of WebMD. Blogs are not reviewed by a WebMD physician or any member of the WebMD editorial staff for accuracy, balance, objectivity, or any other reason except for compliance with our Terms and Conditions. Some of these opinions may contain information about treatments or uses of drug products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. WebMD does not endorse any specific product, service or treatment.
Do not consider WebMD Blogs as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider because of something you have read on WebMD. You should always speak with your doctor before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your care plan or treatment. WebMD understands that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified health care provider. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or dial 911 immediately.