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Busting the myth: There’s no specific ‘heart disease age’

Busting the myth: There’s no specific ‘heart disease age’

You might think of heart disease as something only older adults experience. While it’s true that heart health issues are more common as we age, heart disease at any age is possible.

Heart disease is the most common cause of death among both American men and women. Every person is at some level of risk for heart health issues, but having certain risk factors, such as a family history of heart disease, can put you at risk of experiencing heart issues earlier in life.

What should you know about your risk for heart disease at any age? Our East Jefferson General Hospital team provides some insight and the care you need to get back to the life you love.

Understanding heart disease

The first thing to know about heart disease is that it isn’t a single disease. Heart disease, also called cardiovascular disease, is a category of diseases that impact your heart health.

There are multiple types of heart disease, with coronary artery disease being the most common. More than 18 million American adults have coronary artery disease, which occurs when the coronary arteries are blocked and do not deliver oxygenated blood to the heart muscle.

Other types of heart disease include heart attack, arrhythmia and heart failure.

Heart disease knows no age

In the past, heart health issues were largely associated only with older adults. If you saw a heart attack depicted on TV, for example, it likely affected an older man, causing intense chest pain.

It’s true that older adults are more likely to develop heart disease. That’s why you’ll often see “advanced age” identified on the list of risk factors for most heart-related health issues.

There’s increased evidence, though, that men and women at younger ages are also at risk. While the average age for a first heart attack was 65.6 years for men and 72 years for women in the most recent set of American Heart Association data, younger adults are increasingly at risk for heart disease.

Why is that? It’s a collision of factors, actually. In recent decades, risk factors, such as obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, have become more common among men and women ages 35 to 64. That’s largely due to a change in lifestyle habits among Americans in general, leading to less exercise and a diet that’s higher in saturated fat, sodium and added sugar.

Put together, these factors increase the risk that young adults can experience heart health issues, including heart attacks.

A healthy heart plan for all ages

OK, so everyone at every age is at risk for heart disease. There’s good news, though: Everyone at every age can take steps to protect their heart.

Even if you’re in your 20s and consider yourself nearly invincible, you can build healthy habits that will help keep your ticker ticking strong throughout your life. Start here:

  • Choose heart healthy foods. Whenever possible, look for whole foods rather than processed ones, which contain unhealthy additives, including sodium and sugar. Fill your plate with plenty of vegetables and fruit, lean protein sources such as turkey and fish, whole grains, and a moderate amount of healthy fat, found in olive oil, avocado and nuts. (Avocado toast, anyone?) Make foods containing saturated fat and added sugar the exception rather than the rule in your diet.
  • Move your body with intention. Experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity each week for optimal health. To hit that mark, you can schedule in formal workouts at the gym, but there are also other ways to incorporate more movement into your days. Take a regular after-dinner stroll, dig into gardening, dance as you cook dinner or join a group of friends for regular sessions of pickleball.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking is one of the worst things you can do for your heart. When you smoke, the chemicals in the smoke can damage your blood vessels and your heart. Smoking also increases the potential for plaque formation in the coronary arteries and can increase the risk of blood clot formation.
  • Find healthy ways to manage stress. When you have a hard day at work, is the drive-thru your first stop on the way home? Maybe you turn to a cigarette or a cocktail? Stress is an inevitable part of life, but it’s important to find healthy ways to manage that tension. Seek ways to help yourself relax and find balance, such as exercise, meditation, hobbies or time spent with friends.

Beyond these basic steps, it’s also important for you to keep close tabs on your health. See a primary care provider regularly, even if you’re feeling healthy and well. Routine lab work can keep tabs on aspects of your health you can’t see, such as your cholesterol and your blood sugar.

You should also talk with members of your family about their medical history. Knowing your family health history and sharing that information with your care team can help you take steps to protect your own heart health.

Could your heart use a checkup? Schedule an appointment with an East Jefferson General Hospital Heart & Vascular Care specialist.