Change Your Lifestyle, Save Your Life
I think it's safe to say that many people live in dread of cancer. But it's actually heart disease that's far more likely to claim your life. Statistically speaking, you're more likely to die from heart disease than any other cause. Heart disease is our number one killer.
Coronary artery disease usually ends with a fatal heart attack when blood vessels become obstructed with gunk, blood flow is blocked, and the heart muscle is suddenly deprived of oxygen and nutrients. Such attacks can strike with frightening rapidity, and little or no advance warning. But it all begins with atherosclerosis.
That's the gradual process of dysfunction that begins in the lining of blood vessels. Inflammation plays a role, as does LDL-cholesterol. We used to think diets rich in saturated fats contributed to the development of this disease. But new and emerging information suggests that it's actually the excessive intake of simple carbohydrates—especially sugar—that plays a bigger role in promoting this early blood vessel disease.
Most doctors know that lifestyle factors play a key role in the risk of developing atherosclerosis and heart disease. These factors include five key components: diet, exercise, maintaining a healthy body weight, not smoking, and having a low intake of alcohol. Many doctors also think that it's difficult, if not impossible, for their patients to make the necessary lifestyle changes to reduce their heart disease risk. Some also think that, by adulthood, it's too late to make changes that will impact heart disease risk significantly.
But a new study concluded that one-quarter of adults made the necessary changes of their own volition. Furthermore, by changing lifestyle factors that affect heart disease risk, these adults were able to reduce, or even reverse the development of atherosclerosis, effectively eliminating the disease. "Adulthood is not too late for healthy behavior changes to help the heart...it's not too late," said lead investigator Bonnie Spring, of Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "You're not doomed if you've hit young adulthood and acquired some bad habits. You can still make a change and it will have a benefit for your heart."
Conversely, you can encourage heart disease by dropping or failing to adopt any of the five healthy lifestyle behaviors. In the Northwestern study, 40 percent of adults actually dropped a heart-healthy habit. "A healthy lifestyle requires upkeep to be maintained," said Spring.
B. Spring, A. C. Moller, L. A. Colangelo, J. Siddique, M. Roehrig, M. L. Daviglus, J. F. Polak, J. P. Reis, S. Sidney, K. Liu. Healthy Lifestyle Change and Subclinical Atherosclerosis in Young Adults: Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) Study. Circulation, 2014; DOI: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.113.005445