We’re currently studying the cardiovascular system in med school, and had a lecture on coronary heart disease…and it is impossible to discuss the heart without mentioning the Framingham Heart Study. This is an ongoing research project that has been following adults from Framingham, Massachussetts since 1948, and has been used to estimate the effect of various factors on the heart. For instance, does obesity contribute to heart attacks? Or, what effect does smoking have on developing atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)?
There’s a neat web tool that has taken all of the data (for over 10,000 people) and allows you to enter your information to get a rough estimate of your 10-year risk of having heart attack or death due to heart-disease. It’s not exactly a psychic, but it can give you a good idea of whether you are at high risk..and thus gives you time to take action and prevent a bad outcome: check it out.
So, if you find you’re in the high-risk category, what types of changes should you make? Working on lowering your blood pressure or cholesterol is a good start. You may need medication, but much progress can be achieved through a healthier diet – one that is low in saturated/trans fats, and high in complex carbohydrates (wheat bread, brown rice) and fruits/veggies. If you smoke, you should work on quitting, as this also greatly increases your risk. Easier said than done, I know…but your body will thank you, even if you can only make small changes in your lifestyle.