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American Heart Month: How much do you know about heart disease?

February is American Heart Month, and it's a good time to ask: How much do you know about heart disease?
February 3, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
February is American Heart Month, and it's a good time to ask yourself: How much do you know about heart disease? According to a national survey, 75 percent of Americans don't believe they'll die from heart disease, yet many have high cholesterol and hypertension, two major risk factors.

But you can do something to change the odds. Experts from one of the nation's top heart centers say that if you're proactive, you can do a lot to prevent a heart attack.

The American Heart Association estimates a death from heart disease happens every 90 seconds.

"The leading cause of death in the United States is indeed heart disease," said Dr. Steven Nissen, a Cleveland Clinic cardiologist. "In fact, it's the leading cause of death in both men and women. A lot of women are surprised by that fact because women think they're going to die of breast cancer and other disorders, but in fact it's actually heart disease."

But one-third of Americans aren't doing anything to prevent heart disease, despite the fact that most people know where to start.

Cardiologists say one of the best ways to "love your heart" is to do regular exercise, even if it's just walking 30 minutes three times a week.

"You've got to do all the right things. That means exercising regularly, eating right, controlling your blood pressure if it's elevated, not smoking, lowering your cholesterol if it's elevated," said Nissen. "If you do all of those things, you can lower your risk by 50 percent or more."

If you have high blood pressure, you're not alone: 1 in 3 Americans have hypertension. Too much salt in your diet is one major culprit.

"There was a recent study that looked at the main sources of sodium and surprisingly one thing that came up to the top of the list was bread products," said Julia Zumpano, a Cleveland Clinic dietitian. "Bread products does not just include bread, and I think that's a common misconception. It would include anything in the form of a bread, so a waffle, a pancake, a pastry. You could even lump something like pita chips or crackers in that category."

There's good news in all of this: You can do a lot if you're proactive. Start moving, and get rid of some of the processed foods in your diet. That will automatically lower salt intake.

And salt isn't the only thing we need to worry about in our diet. A large, nationwide study finds that consuming too much sugar can be deadly for people with heart disease.

It doesn't take that much extra sugar to raise the risk. The study, which appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association, finds that the problem mainly comes from sugar added to soda and processed foods.

In other words, a donut, a sugary soda at lunch, plus dessert after dinner could put you in the "high risk" category.


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