By Dr. Anthony MagnanoSpecial to the Recorder
February’s American Heart Month is a time to raise awareness of the dangers of heart disease and highlight steps people can take to improve their heart health. But a recent report released by the National Center for Health Statistics suggests that Americans may want to consider taking their heart health more seriously.
The agency found that U.S. life expectancy is on the decline for the first time in two decades, with signs pointing to an increase in heart disease as one of the main culprits. The most recent data from 2015 showed Americans could expect to live 78.8 years – a decrease of about one month from the previous year.
While that may seem minor, U.S. life expectancy has almost consistently risen for decades due to gains in medical and public health knowledge. The report found mortality rates increased for eight of the top 10 leading causes of death, including heart disease, diabetes and substance abuse.
What is possibly most troubling is the data on heart disease, the number one killer in the United States. The death rate for heart disease increased by almost 1 percent, or by about 20,000 more deaths than the previous year. The reasons for this increase remain unclear, although one major factor may be the country’s obesity epidemic.
Obesity and life expectancy
Nearly 70 percent of American adults are overweight, and one-third are obese, according to the American Heart Association. Defined as a body mass index of 30 or higher, obesity puts you at a higher risk for health problems such as heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes and more.
Because obesity can impact health outcomes across the board, it could help explain why mortality rates have increased in multiple areas. As more people become obese, the trend of flat or declining life expectancy among American adults could continue. However, just because life expectancy trended downward this year doesn’t mean Americans can’t take control of their health in 2017 and beyond.
Changing your lifestyle
Living a heart-healthy lifestyle can not only increase the length of your life but also improve its quality. Even if you’ve already experienced a cardiac event or had a heart procedure, studies show it’s not too late to take your heart health into your hands. For instance, one recent study from the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that people with atrial fibrillation dramatically increased the effectiveness of traditional treatments for their arrhythmia by making lifestyle changes and losing weight.
The keys to a healthy lifestyle are regular physical activity and a diet low in fat and added sugar. Adults should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five to seven days per week. You should focus on a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as foods low in salt, added sugar and fat. One way to make exercising and dieting easier is to do it with your family and friends. Another important part of a healthy lifestyle is regularly seeing a doctor to monitor your health, so you can discover medical problems early and receive proper treatment.
While it can be difficult to make lifestyle changes, turning good habits into a long-term routine could greatly improve your chances of living a long and healthy life.
Dr. Anthony Magnano is a Ponte Vedra resident and cardiac electrophysiologist at St. Vincent’s Medical Center Riverside. For more information on Dr. Magnano and his specialty treating atrial fibrillation, visit AfibJax.com.