What choices can we make to prevent heart disease?

   It is apparent that genetics plays a big part in heart disease. About a quarter of the risk of coronary heart disease is unexplained by conventional risk factors (Dent, 2010). While the general public and athletes have no control over genetics or unexplained factors, there may be certain choices in our lives which we can make that could help to reduce the risk of heart disease. These choices, such as how we eat and exercise, seem to have a relationship with conventional risk factors, such as blood pressure and/or cholesterol levels, and therefore may help us to understand the ways in which we can organize and implement various risk reduction measures in our daily lives.

   It has been clearly established that cigarette smoking is a major risk factor of heart disease, but many other life choices related to heart disease are still yet to be understood, let alone classified as major risk factors. Some choices and/or risk factors may work dependently or independently of each other in causation, therefore creating a fragmented or blurry picture of what lifestyle changes we should and could make, and how to sequence them in order to reduce the odds of heart disease.

   People should pay close attention to and manage stressors in their lives, as stress seems to be a common thread in the majority of recent research that finds significance relating to heart disease and its risk factors. Arch et al. (2010) discovered that stress creates a pathway to heart disease by leading to unhealthy coping behaviors such as smoking, high calorie intake, and sedentary lifestyle. The research by Virtanen et al. (2010) and their analysis of the Whitehall II report found that overtime work is an independent factor leading to an increased risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Overtime work is generally considered to have elements of stress. Olivo et al. (2009) showed that meditation intervention helped participants reduce perceived stress, and that it is highly feasible for recruitment and retention to help as a supportive tool for coronary heart disase (CHD) patients. Saeed et al. (2011) shed light on how negative affectivity and social inhibition personality traits were significant predictors of low quality of life, which is a risk factor for heart disease. These traits may have their origins in some form of stress. Sundquist et al. (2004) pointed out how low neighborhood education and income are predictors of CHD; both of these socioeconomic conditions most likely lead to stress induced high risk behaviors. Exercise is generally considered to be a good stress reducer, and Wen (2011) demonstrated, with an outside of the box approach, that even categorically healthy  people who have low or inactive physical activity had an alarmingly high and independent risk associated with higher ischemic heart disease prevalence. 

   In comparison, regarding nutrition and its relation to heart disease, research concerning a mediterranean diet and hearth disease showed no relationship (Michelson et al., 2006), and the research by Ker et al. (2010) on per capital alcohol consumption showed mixed results of both harmful and protective effects in regards to heart disease. Calcium and magnesium in tap water had no significant effect on ischemic heart disease (Leurs et al., 2010). Although the flavanoids in chocolate are independently associated with a reduction in prevalent CHD, Djousse et al. (2011) were unable to determine the minimum amount required for cardiac benefits.

Going forward, it would be wise for people to people to consider stress reduction in their lives as being just as important as the already clearly established goal of smoking cessation, as a lifestyle choice to prevent, delay or reduce heart disease.

(Jack Witt is a Health and Fitness Coach providing In Home Personal Training, Personal Training at Private Fitness Centers in the North Hollywood, Burbank, Studio City, Sherman Oaks areas, as well as Worksite Health Programs, Corporate Wellness, Life Coaching Products, and Group Exercise Classes)


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Jack Witt