There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t see someone who has one of the classic adult diseases; meaning, diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. In many cases, the ramifications of these diseases have already begun to set in and the client is already being medicated. Sometimes, they are feeling some side effects to the medications they are taking. Not long ago, a 69 year old man came to talk to me and was explaining that he is having aches and pains for the last three years that he hadn’t had before and it was making him uncomfortable. It turns out that he started taking statin drugs about three years ago–muscle pain of this nature is a side effect of those drugs. Another 58 year old had to start Beta Blockers recently for blood pressure issues. He is getting mild headaches and is tiring easily. But two weeks ago, someone came to me who is 38 years old. Although he could stand to lose some weight, he is relatively healthy. But he explained to me that he didn’t want to go the route of some of his close relatives, and spend his adult life on multiple medications to treat the adult diseases. His main reason for coming to see me was plain and simply to make his best effort not to get sick and to maintain a good quality of life as he ages.
It is interesting to note that with all the improvements we’ve seen over the last few years in health care, whether through treatment or preventive medicine, heart disease remains the number one preventable cause of death in the western world. And according to Canadian researchers, whether you are talking about Montana, Jerusalem or Malaysia, the same risk factors – smoking, high cholesterol, obesity and high blood pressure – cause 90% of all heart attacks.
In the past, it was believed that these particular risk factors could account for just about half of all heart attacks, but in a paper presented a few years ago to the European Society of Cardiology by Dr. Salim Yusuf of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, nine in ten heart attacks might be prevented with proper control of these 4 risk factors.
The impressive sample presented in this study, which is one reason for its credibility, included 14,820 healthy subjects, and 15,152 people who had suffered first heart attacks. They included participants from Europe, Latin America, China, South Asia, the Middle East and Africa. In addition the broad spectrum of the study, two new approaches were used to measure the risk of heart attack. First: waist circumference, which is a direct gauge of abdominal fat, was used rather than Body Mass Index (BMI). Second, a simple blood test that measures the ratio of small and large cholesterol molecules was used in place of a standard blood cholesterol test. This provided an instant ratio between HDL (good cholesterol) and LDL (bad cholesterol).
The results were quite intriguing. Persons with the highest risk ratio suffered a 54% increased risk of heart attack. Smoking increased the risk by 36%, but when combined with a poor cholesterol ratio, the two factors account for 66% of all heart attacks. And even a little puff here and there is dangerous. Five cigarettes per day increase your chance of heart attack by 40% compared to a non-smoker.
Rounding out the list of risk factors were diabetes, high blood pressure, sedentary life style and a diet that does not include generous portions of vegetables and fruits. On the positive side, a good diet, regular exercise and very moderate alcohol intake reduced you the risk of heart attack regardless of your ethnicity.
Preventative medicine used to mean seeing your physician for a yearly checkup. We know today that while early diagnosis of any given disease is always good for treatment, taking measures into our own hand to prevent disease to the best of our ability is really what preventive medicine means today. When you think about it, the changes that one has to make in order to cut his risk of having heart disease don’t necessarily have to be drastic. While it is true that if you are a smoker, cutting back and ultimately stopping to smoke, however, other changes in lifestyle, done gradually—one at a time, will ultimately pay off in improved health. Here are some practical changes that you can make:
- Get Moving! Start walking from place to place and plan 30-35 minutes of brisk walking or other aerobic exercise daily. If need be, break it up into two 15 minutes segments.
- Stop Smoking! If you smoke a pack a day, start by cutting back by 5 cigarettes. Although the “cold turkey” method of quitting works for some, most people need to cut back gradually over many weeks in order to kick the habit. When ready, cut back some more.
- Change the Diet! Remember, we don’t just want to reduce harmful foods; we also want to be sure to eat healthy foods. So, if you cut out two or three cookies a day, put in a vegetable and fruit in its place. Instead of Shabbos desert being a piece of cake, how about a piece of melon or watermelon instead?
- Keep your weight in check! Don’t do anything radical to lose weight, but use a normal eating regimen that emphasizes healthful choices and portion control to lose weight. You don’t have to be hungry on a good weight loss plan.
- Cut your Stress! Exercise is one way to deal with stress, but in addition, try to avoid stressful situations when you can and most of all, remember that there are many things in life you can’t control, so don’t try to.
We will probably never be able to totally eliminate heart disease. However, there are many concrete steps we can take to enhance our health and quality of life and cut out odds of ever getting the adult diseases. Practicing preventive medicine will “add hours to your day, days to your year and years to your life.”