A Heartening Trend
Though heart disease remains the #1 killer in the U.S., death rates have been declining
America, we can do this. We can take good care of our hearts.
It won’t happen overnight. But recent history has demonstrated that Americans can make an impact on their heart health. Research on the deaths from heart disease in the United States showed that the rate fell nearly 10 percent between 2010 and 2019, continuing a trend that physicians started to notice in the early 2000s.
The population lost some of that progress in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, but as people return to their normal healthcare routine, those numbers have the potential to improve once again.
Advances in surgery, medication and other treatments have undoubtedly played a huge role in the lower mortality rate for heart disease, but the first step—prevention—starts with us.
What We’re Doing Right
“Our primary and secondary heart disease prevention is better than ever,” says William Crosland, MD, of Cardiology Associates of Savannah. “Primary means that we are able to intervene before the development of heart disease and the co-morbidities that make it life-threatening, such as diabetes. Secondary means that the patient already has a diagnosis of heart disease, but we have ways to manage it and prevent its progression.”
Dr. Crosland uses every opportunity he can to educate patients on the basic risk factors for heart disease, which include high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and unhealthy diet. Patients are more knowledgeable about the factors that need the most focus.
“I think we’ve made great strides in managing high blood pressure and diabetes and that has led to the reduction in the cardiac mortality threat we’ve seen,” he says.
Those who do not have co-morbidities can help ensure they stay heart-healthy for years to come by continuing these essential habits:
- Eating well: vegetables, lean protein, nuts and whole-grain foods
- Being active: getting at least two and a half hours of physical activity per week
- Getting enough sleep: most adults need seven to nine hours each night
- No smoking: if you use tobacco or vapes, quit; everyone should avoid secondhand smoke
“Everyone is on a certain path in their journey,” Dr. Crosland says. “I try to identify where you are and then help get you to that next step. We’re not trying to get everyone to run a marathon. But the folks who are able to do these healthy activities on a daily basis have an improved quality of life. They do better overall.”
Where Challenges Remain
Dr. Crosland believes that awareness and access to healthy food choices is still an issue for many communities.
“Too often, the food that is most readily available is not necessarily the best for you,” he says. “Much of the pre-packaged foods that you can grab off the shelf of a grocery store have a high carbohydrate load and high salt content. Unfortunately, the food industry is allowed to put as much salt or sugar as they would like into their product to try and get you to buy it again.”
Part of Dr. Crosland’s time with his patients is spent providing education on how to shop for food and identify the choices that will make them healthier. Sometimes the problem is access.
“You have folks who live in certain urban or rural areas that have limitations when it comes to accessibility of healthy foods, but in different ways,” he says. “We serve all of these communities, so we try to personalize the discussion so that people understand what options are available to them.”
Dr. Crosland also emphasizes how healthy eating will not only help patients manage their weight but also help minimize the need for blood pressure medication or the amount of insulin they have to take for their diabetes.
“I coach a lot of my patients about how to adapt their lifestyle,” he says. “When people ask about a heart-healthy diet, I tell them about the Mediterranean diet. Research on this diet has shown it to be linked to lower cardiac mortality.”
The crux of the Mediterranean diet is an emphasis on lean protein, seafood and fresh fruits and vegetables, while minimizing added sugars, processed meats and fast food.
“Obviously we don’t live in Greece, but these principles can be applied in coastal Georgia and South Carolina,” Dr. Crosland says. “So part of my job is to help patients learn where and how to access these foods, and what choices will help them become the best versions of themselves.”