Originally published in The Alamedan.

By Stephen Raskin

February 12, 2015

February is historically designated as American Heart Month. More than just a time to “wear red,” many health professionals consider this an opportunity to promote cardiovascular wellness and encourage patients to learn more about the risks for heart disease and stroke. With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it has never been a better time to be “heart healthy” for yourself and your loved ones.

After more than 35 years of cardiology practice, it is sobering to realize that there’s a gap between what doctors know and what is currently practiced. What is so clear, however, is that for the majority of Americans, simple and inexpensive lifestyle measures can reduce the epidemic of cardiovascular disease – this nation’s number one killer of men and women. Coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease, can result in sudden death at its first and only manifestation. In the United States, someone has a heart attack every 34 seconds.

A healthy diet, with increased amount of fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, fish, moderate alcohol, nuts and extra virgin olive oil has been shown to be as beneficial as many new blockbuster drugs in stabilizing blood pressure, weight and decreasing metabolic risks. When lifestyle changes can curb our nation’s heart disease epidemic without added cost and potential drug side effects, it is certainly worth our attention.

Studies show that we are on the right track. Over the past 20 years, coronary heart disease death rates fell by 40 percent, but most of that benefit was surprisingly not related to advanced procedures like coronary artery bypass surgery, angioplasty or stents. Instead, the credit goes to simple lifestyle-related improvements such as more exercise, less smoking and improved nutrition.

Many practitioners have not given enough emphasis to diet for prevention and management of cardiovascular disease and the related growing epidemic of metabolic diseases of pre-diabetes and diabetes. Since more than 50 percent of seniors 65 years and older have pre-diabetes (and are three times as likely to have a heart attack or stroke compared with people without pre-diabetes), attention to a healthy dietary pattern that restricts nutrient-poor processed foods, sugary beverages and all-too-common hidden sugars is warranted.

This is an obvious recommendation not only for my fellow Baby Boomers but for our children as well. The adoption of a lifestyle that includes avoidance of tobacco, more exercise and a balanced nutritional pattern can truly be an investment in a more healthy future for all.

Edited on June 12, 2018.