The Beat Goes on

January 29, 2016

We may think of February and picture Valentines, but since 1963, this short month has been celebrated as American Heart Month to urge Americans to join the battle against heart disease.

Since 1963???? Wait. What? We have struggled to get Americans on board to keep their hearts healthy since 1963?

Before 1900, very few people died of heart disease. Since then, it has become…and remains the leading killer of both men and women in the United States.

Simply stated, the age of technology has made life easier and us more prone to heart disease. Before the Industrial Revolution, most people made their living through some sort of manual labor and were active throughout their days. Walking was the major means of transportation. Laundry was scrubbed and wrung by hand. Stairs were climbed; houses swept and cleaned manually and even butter (that artery-clogging fat) was hand-churned. We were always moving.

Then came automation. Our lives became less strenuous. Most manual labor was either replaced by or at the very least, assisted by machinery. Cars, washing machines, elevators, and vacuum cleaners became commonplace. Modern conveniences made physical exertion less essential.

Now, I’m not suggesting we ditch our Dysons or abandon our Maytags. But when life got easier, we became less active and by extension, less fit.

Along with lifestyle changes our diets changed. Machines were developed to homogenize milk, process cheese, churn butter and make ice cream. In the past, these high-fat treats had to be made by hand. Foods like potato chips and French fries, these once labor-intensive dishes reserved for very special occasions (because it took so much work to produce them), became staples of our daily diets.

This combination of sedentary living and rich foods as daily fare led to an increase in clogged blood vessels, heart attacks, and strokes.

The rate of heart disease increased so sharply between 1940 and 1967 that the World Health Organization called the world’s most serious epidemic a commonplace disease.

Since 1973, heart disease has claimed and continues to claim approximately 1 million lives annually. Every 33 seconds someone in the United States dies from cardiovascular disease. To give you some perspective, it’s roughly the equivalent of a September 11th-like tragedy repeating itself every 24 hours, every day of the year.

If we don’t make changes that alter the course we are on, by 2020, heart disease will be the leading cause of death throughout the world.

Annually, about one in every six U.S. healthcare dollars is spent on cardiovascular disease. By 2030, annual direct medical costs associated with cardiovascular diseases are projected to rise to more than $818 billion, while lost productivity costs could exceed $275 billion

Pretty scary stuff, I’d say. 

So what do we do? How do we win the battle against this equal-opportunity killer? It should come as no surprise that when it comes to our hearts, what we eat matters…and changing how we think about food is essential to regaining and maintaining the health of your heart.

But I’m not talking skinless grilled chicken instead of dinner in a bucket.

I am of the belief that one of the reasons we don’t see dramatically improved health is that we don’t dramatically change our diets and lives. So when our results are less than extraordinary, we fall quickly and easily back into our old habits because we didn’t see a difference.

A fan of keeping things simple and accessible, my advice for keeping your ticker ticking; to navigate the murky waters of dubious advice is to take simple, practical steps to change your lifestyle and food choices to benefit your health and wellness.

In the end, I am of the mind that we need to follow the sage advice once given by Michael Pollan when he advised that we eat real food, mostly plants and not too much. So stick around. I promise a month of yummy and fun ideas to help you live well and never look back.