As part of its “Million Hearts” initiative, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services is asking Americans to follow the “ABCS of Health,” which stands for aspirin, control blood pressure, cholesterol management, and smoking cessation. By increasing awareness of these four simple steps, the goal is to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes in the U.S. over the next five years.
The Leading Cause of Death in America
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in America. It is responsible for one in every three deaths in the U.S., killing 2,200 people every day, or 800,000 per year (150,000 of them are under the age of 65). The number of heart attacks and strokes in the U.S. each year totals 2 million, and 80 million Americans are affected by some form of heart problem, which includes severe chest pain, heart attack, heart failure and stroke. The cost to the U.S. is $445 billion per year in medical costs and lost economic productivity.
Eliminate Your Risk Factors for Better Health
There are many things you can do to reduce and/or eliminate your risk factors, such as control blood pressure and cholesterol levels, not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight. That’s why it’s critical to make positive changes in your lifestyle, including eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, limiting alcohol consumption, and following the ABCS steps: aspirin therapy (if you are at risk of cardiovascular problems); control blood pressure; cholesterol management; and smoking cessation.
Control Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the amount of force that blood exerts on the blood vessels. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one-third of Americans suffers from high blood pressure. And according to the American Heart Association, 28% of Americans have high blood pressure and don’t even know it.
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is one of the biggest risk factors for heart attack and stroke. It’s often called the “silent killer” because there are no outward signs or symptoms. That’s why it’s so important to monitor and control blood pressure and not to exceed a healthy reading of 120/80. If your blood pressure is higher than this, you should take steps to lower it.
Fortunately, many people can help support blood pressure successfully by making changes in their lives, such as:
- Strive to maintain a healthy weight, and lose weight if needed.
- Reduce your sodium consumption to a maximum of 1,500mg per day, which is about half of what the average American consumes every day, and many people consume three or four times this amount, or even more!
- Eat potassium-rich foods and take a potassium supplement. Good sources of potassium are sweet potatoes, tomatoes, orange juice, potatoes, bananas, kidney beans, peas, cantaloupe, honeydew melon, and dried fruits such as prunes and raisins.
- Limit your alcohol consumption. Drinking alcohol to excess is clearly detrimental to our health, but moderate alcohol consumption may be protective of the heart. So drink in moderation.
- Drink decaf coffee or herbal tea instead of regular coffee. Caffeine raises blood pressure by tightening blood vessels, so drink decaffeinated coffee, or drink herbal tea instead. Studies have found that teas made with hibiscus, which contains phytochemicals, can lower blood pressure by several points. Look for tea blends that list hibiscus near the top of the ingredients because this often indicates a higher concentration per serving.
- Reduce stress in your life since stress can increase blood pressure.
- Get help for snoring. If you have sleep apnea, treating it may lower your aldosterone levels and help lower and control blood pressure.
- Take supplements. In a review of 12 studies, researchers found that coenzyme Q10 reduced blood pressure by up to 17mmhg over 10mmhg. This antioxidant, which is required for energy production, helps lower blood pressure by dilating the blood vessels.
Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels is important for heart health because high cholesterol can cause plaque to build-up in the blood vessels and arteries, which can lead to cardiovascular problems, heart attack, stroke, and even death. It’s estimated that 100 million Americans are currently at risk or living with high cholesterol. Could you be one of them? Be sure to ask your doctor to order a simple blood test to check your cholesterol levels.
As a general guideline, your total cholesterol should not exceed 200 mg/dL; your LDL cholesterol should not exceed 70 mg/dL; your HDL cholesterol should not exceed 40 mg/dL (men) or 50 mg/dL (women); and your triglycerides should not exceed 150 mg/dL.
Things you can do to maintain healthy cholesterol levels include many of the same steps listed above for blood pressure control, including losing weight, eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise, drinking in moderation, and quitting smoking.
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For more information about the Million Hearts campaign and the ABCS of Health, visit the website at http://millionhearts.hhs.gov/index.shtml.