Heart Group Puts the Emphasis on Prevention
Apr. 27, 2011 - Get moving. Eat better. Don't smoke. Those are among the seven goals the American Heart Association has for Americans - all in the name of preventing heart disease and stroke.
"The goal is to shift the population to a healthier lifestyle," says Ralph L. Sacco, M.D., president of the American Heart Association (AHA). "It's a much more prevention-oriented goal than we have had in the past."
Dubbed "Life's Simple 7," the AHA's goals are part of the Healthy People 2020 program organized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The objectives are several-fold - to raise awareness about the importance of health screenings for blood pressure and cholesterol and to help people learn the warning signs of heart attack and stroke.
The AHA's goals focus on preventing heart disease through healthy lifestyle choices:
- Get regular exercise. The federal government calls for at least 150 minutes a week of moderately intensive physical activity.
- Control your cholesterol. You should keep your cholesterol level at less than 200 mg/dL.
- Revamp your diet. Eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and fish. Limit the amount of fat and sodium you eat.
- Keep your blood pressure under control. A normal blood pressure is less than 120/80.
- Lose those extra pounds. If your body mass index is greater than 25, it's time to take action.
- If you have diabetes, control your blood sugar. Your fasting blood sugar level should be less than 100 mg/dL.
- Don’t smoke. If you do smoke, make plans now to quit.
It's no surprise that diet, exercise, and smoking cessation form the basis of the AHA's goals.
"When you start with behavior like diet and physical activity, it improves everything else," Dr. Sacco says. "They're all kind of interlinked."
And prevention is the focus, he says, because once a person develops the risk factors for heart disease, the damage is done. "Treatment can never restore you to the baseline risk factor of someone who has never had them," he says. "Your chances of living a healthier, longer life with better quality of life are substantially better."
To help Americans reach the AHA's goals, people will need to change their behavior. Dr. Sacco says that motivational and fitness counselors will be needed to help keep people focused and inspired.
The goals also will require some changes in public policy, says Donald Lloyd-Jones, M.D., at Northwestern University in Chicago. Among them: Communities need to be redesigned to promote walking, Americans across the board need better access to fresh fruits and vegetables. And food manufacturers need to reduce levels of sodium in processed food.
A Check on Cholesterol
You should have your cholesterol checked at least every five years, starting at age 20. The most accurate test is a lipoprotein profile, a blood test given after fasting for nine to 12 hours. The test will give you these details:
- Your total cholesterol
- Your LDL ("bad") cholesterol; this cholesterol is what's deposited in your arteries
- Your HDL ("good") cholesterol; this cholesterol helps keeps deposits from building up in your arteries
- Your triglycerides; these are another form of fat in your blood
Even without a lipoprotein profile, you can get a rough idea of your cholesterol health if you know your total cholesterol and HDL cholesterol. These levels can be determined through a nonfasting cholesterol test often given at shopping malls or health fairs. If your total cholesterol is 200 mg/dL or more, or if your HDL cholesterol is less than 40 mg/dL, you should ask your doctor about getting a complete lipoprotein profile.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.