The pandemic has changed our world in just a year. What has not changed is that small things matter. While small but important things can be easily overlooked amid a “big thing” like a pandemic, small changes can make a big difference when it comes to health.
In the United States, heart disease is the leading cause of death and cerebrovascular disease is the fifth-leading cause of death. More than 650,000 people die from heart disease and 150,000 people die from stroke each year.
While progress in ending the acute phase of the pandemic continues, the likelihood of dying from cardiac and vascular diseases has plateaued after decades of improvement. This troubling stall is most apparent among individuals ages 35-64, a season of life when many are serving as parents, caregivers, coworkers, family breadwinners, and neighbors. While each life is truly precious, these losses, many of which are preventable, leave holes in our homes, lives, and communities.
The reasons for the prolonged stall in cardiovascular health are myriad. Not every one of us has easy access to safe places to be active. Many Americans live in “food deserts” with limited access to affordable, healthy food.
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Millions of people in the United States have conditions like diabetes and obesity that make heart disease and stroke more likely, and although rates have dropped a lot in the past few decades, over 34 million U.S. adults still smoke cigarettes. Perhaps most compelling, half of adults have hypertension (high blood pressure) and only 1 in 4 of those has readings that are in the optimal range of less than 130/80 mm Hg.
How about some good news? We know preventing heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, cognitive decline (a common form of dementia), and even major causes of harm during and following pregnancy, is absolutely possible. How, you ask?
Take one small step today to protect and improve your heart and brain health. Keep practicing that small step until it’s a habit. When you can, add a new step, but keep it small — make it permanent. Perhaps you add a fresh vegetable to your daily diet or choose the lower sodium option next time you shop. Add 5-10 minutes of activity to your daily routine or commit to moving 2-3 minutes every hour.
If you take more than one medication a day, start using a pillbox to make it easier to take your meds regularly. Get a validated home blood pressure monitor, and share your readings with your doctor or healthcare professional. Understanding your pattern of readings will put control in your hands.
Find resources here for choosing small steps with giant returns for your cardiovascular health.