Hey, America! How about fewer wrinkles and a better sex life? Two new studies about heart attacks and healthy habits shine a big spotlight on the small, smart, everyday choices only you can make, but that less than 3 percent of you manage to pull off. We’re here to nag, cajole, push and plead with you to quit stalling and step up — and we’ve got incentives (besides the wrinkles and sex thing) to help you get motivated.
The benefits of taking charge of your health go beyond a lower risk for scary trips to the emergency room; there’s money involved. Preventable health conditions cost the U.S. economy more than $600 billion a year — and that’s just the health-insurance costs linked with obesity, smoking and binge-drinking. The number’s even higher if you include Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, osteoarthritis and your personal out-of-pocket expenses and missed income opportunities.
What’s got us up on a soapbox? A pair of shocking new studies with important messages for all Americans.
No. 1: Heart attack patients are younger, heavier and more likely to be smokers than ever before. When researchers from the Cleveland Clinic looked closely at 3,900 people who’d experienced severe, often-deadly heart attacks between 1995 and 2014 they found a troubling trend. The average age of heart attack victims over that 20-year span dropped from 64 to 60; the number of heart attack sufferers with obesity rose from 31 to 40 percent; and the number of those with high blood pressure went from 55 to 77 percent. Not surprising then that the number of folks with diabetes increased from 24 to 31 percent. But most striking of all: The number of smokers in the group increased from 26 to 46 percent.
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Top-line advice from the study’s lead researcher: “Don’t wait until you have a diagnosed heart problem to start ... paying attention to your lifestyle and dietary choices. You should be working hard to avoid developing heart disease in the first place.”
No. 2: Less than 3 in 100 Americans follow four top heart-healthy lifestyle habits. Researchers from the University of Mississippi looked at the habits of 4,745 Americans who agreed to answer detailed questionnaires at home and undergo fairly extensive health tests. They got a shock. Just 2.7 percent were on board with four top strategies: Regular exercise, a healthy diet, not smoking and maintaining a healthy body-fat percentage. Just 16 percent more chose to do three. These habits matter. They translate directly into lower heart attack risk and other cardiovascular problems.
People who followed all four healthy lifestyle habits had the lowest levels of inflammation, heart-threatening LDL cholesterol and triglycerides (another blood fat) and the highest levels of heart-helping HDL cholesterol. People who stuck with three of four saw better blood pressure numbers. And people who kept their body fat within healthy ranges had lower fasting blood sugar levels.
We know that sticking with healthy habits isn’t easy in this eat-anytime and sit-on-your-bottom environment. Our best advice: Don’t go it alone or try to white-knuckle it. Take it slow and get the support and motivation that work for you. Two options that can help:
Tap into the power of accountability. Ask a friend, relative or co-worker to walk with you at lunch. Join a weight-loss program that includes regular weigh-ins to keep you on track and group support for friendly inspiration. If you thrive on competition, make a bet.
Get paid to get healthier. More and more employers offer incentives to workers who take healthy steps, including sizable cuts in the cost of health-insurance premiums. If your company’s on board, take advantage of it. Check your health insurance plan, too. Many will pay you back if you participate in a weight-loss program or use your gym regularly.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.