Why Southerners are more likely to have heart disease
Although heart disease is common across the United States, the condition is especially prevalent in the southeast. Cardiologist Lauren Holliday, MD, explained why Southerners are more likely to have heart disease and what you can do to reduce your risk.
How common is heart disease in the South?
“Across the southeast, we have very high rates of heart disease,” Dr. Holliday said. “In fact, heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women, especially in this part of the country.”
Why? It’s likely because the South also has increased rates of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes – all of which are risk factors for heart disease. The most common types of heart disease diagnosed in this area are coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, abnormal heart rhythms and heart valve disease.
What are some other heart disease risk factors?
In addition to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, other risk factors include a family history of heart disease, poor diet, lack of exercise and being overweight.
“One of the biggest risk factors is smoking,” said Dr. Holliday. “Smoking accelerates heart disease. It makes you much more likely to develop heart disease at an earlier age and have more complications from it down the road.”
Can you prevent heart disease?
One of the best ways to prevent heart disease is to stay active. At least 30 minutes a day, five days a week of light to moderate exercise or one hour, three days a week of moderate to intense exercise is recommended.
“Exercising regularly can help keep you in shape, help keep you moving, help to prevent heart disease or at least help you figure out if you’re having symptoms to be concerned about,” Dr. Holliday said. “If you exercise regularly, you’re much more likely to notice if your usual level of activity is off and you’re having symptoms with activity that you don’t normally have.”
Eating a healthy diet of mainly fresh fruits and vegetables is also extremely important. If you are a meat eater, try eating lean proteins, making sure to avoid a lot of fried foods, unhealthy fats and sugar.
Knowing your risk factors can help you lower your risk of heart disease. This includes knowing if you have a family history and what your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels are.
“Everyone should be screened at least once when they hit their 20s and then continue to follow up with a doctor so they can periodically be monitored to make sure they’re not developing any of those risk factors for heart disease,” Dr. Holliday said.
Even small changes improve heart health
If you’re overweight, try to get down to healthy weight, but don’t do it drastically. One to two pounds a week is better. Make sure you’re getting at least seven hours of peaceful, uninterrupted sleep. If you smoke or vape, stop. And if you drink excessive alcohol, reduce your intake.
“But the most important way to protect yourself is to listen to your body and reach out to a doctor if you notice any concerning symptoms,” Dr. Holliday said. “We’re happy to help you.”
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