February is American Heart Month, reminding us that cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. And the first Friday of February is “Wear Red Day,” on which everyone is encouraged to wear red to show awareness that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of not just men, but women, too. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, which is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the “Go Red for Women” campaign this year, cardiovascular disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined!
To learn more about the Go Red for Women campaign, visit www.goredforwomen.org.
This message about our nation’s #1 killer does not have to be all gloom and doom, however. The encouraging news is that approximately 80 percent of all cardiovascular disease can be prevented!! That’s right—the vast majority of cardiovascular events never have to happen.
So, what is cardiovascular disease, exactly? Cardiovascular disease, or CVD, is disease of the heart and blood vessels -including the blood vessels that supply the brain, so stroke is included as a form of CVD. Forms of cardiovascular disease include:
- High blood pressure – which is a disease of the blood vessels that also can affect internal organs such as the heart, brain, and kidneys
- Coronary artery disease – which can lead to heart attacks and heart failure
- Valvular heart disease – disease of the heart valves
- Peripheral vascular disease – disease of the blood vessels outside the heart itself, such as the arteries that supply the legs, or the carotid arteries in the neck
- Congenital heart disease – disease of the heart that one is born with
- Heart failure – which can be caused by any of the above in addition to other causes
One of the best ways to prevent many of the above forms of CVD is – you guessed it – exercise. A high level of physical fitness (without overdoing it, of course) has been shown to dramatically lower the risk of high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, and heart failure. And physical activity as simple as a daily 30-minute walk has been shown to reduce the risk of not only CVD, but also of dementia in the elderly. A daily walk does more for one’s mental clarity than any crossword or Sudoku puzzle!
Staying physically fit, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating healthfully can keep CVD at bay. So spread the message and let’s defeat this “Public Enemy No. 1”!
Yasmine S. Ali, MD, MSCI, FACC, FACP, is President of Nashville Preventive Cardiology, PLLC, in Nashville, TN. She is board-certified in internal medicine and cardiovascular disease, as well as in clinical lipidology and nuclear cardiology. She is a Fellow of the American College of Cardiology and of the American College of Physicians. She graduated from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 2001, and has made it her career’s work to follow her passion for preventing cardiovascular disease and improving heart health for as many people as possible. Each month she will be contributing an educational piece on preventing cardiovascular disease. To learn more about Dr. Ali, visit www.preventivecardio.com.