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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics: 2012 Update Paints a Mixed Picture

The American Heart Association, in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health, recently released the latest statistics and updates on heart health in the United States. The good news? We are making huge strides in our battle against heart disease and stroke. The bad news? Improvements in survival and quality of life have come about despite the fact that the lifestyles of many Americans are becoming less and less healthy. This means that extra resources must be rallied to combat the effects of factors such as obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and smoking, at a cost of billions of extra dollars yearly.

Deaths Attributable to CVD

From 1998 to 2008, deaths attributable to cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart attacks, strokes, and congestive heart failure,  plummeted by more than 30 percent. Nevertheless, over 800,000 Americans died from CVD in 2008. That means that CVD remains responsible for one in three lives lost each year.  Although we tend to think of heart disease as an old person’s illness, one third of those deaths occurred before the age of 75.


Rates of hypertension, or high blood pressure, are rising. Currently one in every three Americans over the age of 20 has hypertension, although 20 percent of those with the condition are not aware that they have it. Even amongst those who know they have high blood pressure, only about half are adequately controlled with medications.

Diabetes and Weight

Diabetes is also soaring. More than 10 percent of Americans are diabetic, and over one third are pre-diabetic, meaning that they are at high risk for the disease. In many cases diabetes can be directly attributed to obesity. More than two thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese, and over one third meet the medical criteria for obesity. Amongst kids, nearly one third are either overweight or obese, and about one in five are frankly obese.

Trends in American Habits

We’re exercising less than ever before, despite the growth of fitness clubs around the country. According to the Heart Association report, one in three American adults get no regular exercise at all. It’s not much better for youngsters. In a survey of high school age kids cited in the study, nearly 30 percent of girls and 17 percent of boys reported little to no exercise in the past seven days.

Not only are we getting more sedentary, we’re also eating more. The average American woman consumes 22 percent more calories than 10 years ago, and the average man has added 10 percent more calories.

On the bright side, Americans are smoking less (although about 21 percent of men and 18 percent of women still smoke), and consequently, nonsmokers are less likely to be exposed to second-hand smoke.

We’re fortunate to live during a time of unparalleled medical progress, but the fact is that medical care is expensive. The American Heart Association conservatively estimates that the direct and indirect costs of CVD are nearly $300 billion each year, although other groups put the figure closer to $475 billion.

Preventive Measures

Unlike many serious illnesses and chronic conditions, most heart disease can be prevented. It may sound too simple to be true, but following a Mediterranean diet, keeping your BMI in a healthy range, exercising 2 ½ hours each week, and not smoking can reduce your risk by 60 percent or more. Taking medications for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, when needed, will also have a major impact. Although the sooner you start, the better off you will be, it’s never too late to choose to live a healthy, more vibrant, and satisfying life. Controlling heart disease is a change that we can all live with.

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.