State Health Officer

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Modify Your Lifestyle for a Healthier Heart

Heart disease is the single leading cause of death in Alabama, and our state has the second highest rate of deaths related to heart disease across the entire nation. These statistics might sound alarming, but the good news is that coronary artery disease is highly preventable by modifying risk factors.

The American Heart Association lists the following seven major risk factors for coronary heart disease:

  • Cigarette and tobacco smoke
  • High blood cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Physical inactivity
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Lack of a healthful diet

Tobacco use is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Smoking increases the risk of heart disease, and when it acts with other factors, it greatly increases risk. Smoking increases blood pressure, decreases exercise tolerance, and increases the tendency for blood to clot. Free assistance is available by visiting or calling 1-800-Quit-Now (1-800-784-8669) for those who would like to stop smoking. Information and counseling sessions are confidential. Those who begin counseling can receive, if medically eligible, a free, eight-week supply of the nicotine patch to assist in their attempt to quit.

Two-thirds of Alabamians are overweight or obese, which puts them at risk for cardiovascular disease. Choose foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and sodium, the American Heart Association advises. As part of a healthy diet, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish (preferably oily fish-at least twice per week), nuts, legumes, and seeds. Try eating some meals without meat, and select lower fat dairy products and poultry (skinless). Limit sugar-sweetened beverages and red meat.

Be sure to exercise. Being physically active is one of the most important steps to take to improve health – and the good news is that physical activity is anything that gets a body moving. Regular physical activity can produce long-term health benefits, such as a reduced risk for chronic disease, lower stress levels, and weight loss.

It is recommended that adults get 150 minutes of physical activity per week. Despite busy schedules, there are easy ways to get the suggested amount. Walking a dog, washing a car, gardening, raking leaves, taking the steps instead of the elevator, and working up a sweat playing a favorite sport are all examples of physical activity. The key is to start small, just move 10 minutes at a time, and then work up to more activity for a longer amount of time. Exercise should be a part of everyone’s personal routine.

Some risk factors, such as age, sex, and heredity, cannot be changed, so it is even more important to manage modifiable risk factors. Authorities agree that a long-term, healthy lifestyle is the best defense against these risks.

Scott Harris, M.D.
Acting State Health Officer

(February 2018)

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Page last updated: February 1, 2018