Cardiovascular Disease is the number one killer from illness in America. Once only thought to be common in aging men, the prevalence of Cardiovascular Disease (CVD) is now also spreading to women and children. Youth athletes are dying because they have never been properly tested for heart problems, and too often neither the coaches nor parents know the signs of a heart attack. An increasing rate in obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and practicing poor nutrition is leading young adult men and women to CVD, and possible future heart attacks. The news is littered with cases such as Michael Clarke Duncan passing away before their time because of heart issues. Jerry Lawler, a former professional wrestler, just suffered a heart attack ringside of their Monday show. CVD is becoming all too prevalent.
There are many causes of and ways to develop Cardiovascular Disease, but there are 7 Risk Factors that can signal possible heart disease issues. If any of these factors are relative to you, first see your doctor, and then change your lifestyle.
RISK FACTORS for Heart Attacks
1. Family History: If your father or immediate male relative had heart issues before 55. Or if your mother or immediate female relative had heart issues before 65.
2. Smoking Cigarettes: If you are a current smoker or have quit within 6 months. Between 2 weeks and 3 months the risk for cardiac issues decreases, and within 1 year of cessation a former smoker’s risk for CVD is 50% of a current smoker.
3. Hypertension (High Blood Pressure): If there have been two consecutive measurements where BP was greater than or equal to 140/90 or are currently on high BP medication. Hypertension may be a sign of plaque buildup in the heart.
4. Hypercholesterolemia (High Cholesterol): A total cholesterol level of 200 or greater, LDL (bad cholesterol) greater than 130, or a HDL (good cholesterol) less than 35. Any of these numbers may be cause for cholesterol medication and/or a change in diet.
On a positive note, if HDL (or good cholesterol) is 65 or above, it actually helps lower your cholesterol and negates one of the 7 risk factors.
5. Impaired Fasting Glucose: This test is taken after fasting for 12-24hrs to get an accurate resting glucose level in the blood. A number, taken at two separate occasions, above or equal to 110 is linked to high blood sugar and the potential for TYPE II diabetes.
6. Obesity: 1 in 3 U.S. adults are now considered obese, and obesity is becoming the number 1 indicator for future Cardiovascular Disease. A person is labeled obese if they: a. Have a Body Mass Index of 30++, b. Have a waist-to-hip ratio of .95+ in males, and .80+ in females c. Women have a waist of 35″+, and males 40″+. Carrying more weight in the stomach has also been found as a causal factor to CVD.
7. Sedentary Lifestyle: Not getting 30-60 minutes of activity and exercise 5 days/week.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS of Cardiopulmonary Disease: If you experience any of these, take a Bayer Aspirin immediately and call your doctor.
1. Chest Pressure or Pain
2. Shortness of Breath while at rest or during mild exercise
3. Dizziness or Syncope – fainting due to low blood pressure (heart not pumping enough blood to the body)
4. Problems breathing while in certain positions or shortness of breath during the night (Orthopnea or Paroxysmal Nocturnal Dyspnea)
5. Ankle Swelling (Edema): Can signal blood circulation problems
6. Palpitations or Tachychardia: Heart palpitations or a resting heart rate 100 or more beats per minute
7. Intermittent Claudication: On and off pain in the legs and calves
8. Heart Murmurs: Any valve problem diagnosed by a doctor
9. Unusual fatigue or shortness of breath with usual activities
These risk factors and signs/symptoms of possible cardiovascular disease should not be ignored. If any of these risk factors pertain to you, it is recommended to see your doctor before starting an exercise regime. It is also good to go every few months to be sure you are not adding too much stress to your body. If you experience any of the signs or symptoms of CVD, then you must get to your doctor or ER immediately. If you go and it ends up being gas, for example, no harm no foul. But to ignore the signs could quite literally kill you.
On a personal note, I recently had a bout of costochondritis, which is a tightening of the cartilage in the rib cage. At the apex of this event, I felt like I was being squeezed by an Anaconda. Each breath I took got harder and harder, and I felt like my chest was caving in. I knew it was not my heart but it was still scary. From that incident, if a heart attack is anything like that, I can assure you that is not something you ever want to go through. Be diligent. Take care of your heart. It is a muscle too and needs to be exercised. Get more active; walk, swim, paddle board, bike ride, workout, anything that will get your heart pumping. Finally, watch what you eat. Trade sugary treats with fruits or nuts, opt for natural whole foods vs. frozen bagged dinners, avoid sodas (yes, even diet), and be sure to eat a wide variety of fresh vegetables.
Jason Nichols is Owner and Head Trainer at J Nichols Fitness in Charleston, SC. He trains locally in the Charleston and Mt. Pleasant area. Also, Jason provides on-line training at wello.co/jasonnichols for those who are outside the Charleston area. For additional nutrition and exercise tips you can reach him at:
and on Facebook by searching j nichols fitness