The number-one killer of Americans today is heart disease. To reduce the incidence of heart disease, says Gary Balady, a School of Medicine professor of medicine and director of preventive cardiology and codirector of the noninvasive cardiac labs at Boston Medical Center, we need to raise awareness of the disease and its risk factors.
“The goal of increased awareness would be to eradicate heart disease and stroke and I presume that it’s possible,” he says. “Until heart disease is no longer the number-one killer and no longer an important cause of death and disability, we need to make everybody aware of it. Once they are aware, we need to make sure people know what steps they can take in order to reduce their overall risk.”
Several measures can be taken to cut down on your risk for heart disease, beginning when you are young. Balady stresses the importance of introducing good health habits from childhood, which he says carry over into adulthood. Half of all heart attacks occur in people under 65, he says. “People feel that heart disease is a disease of the elderly and for the most part they don’t have to worry about it until they are older,” he says. “They don’t realize that risk accrues over time and the habits that we have as young individuals carry forward. If you have greater risk when you are younger, it’s not uncommon to have a heart event when you are middle-aged.”
The risk factors for heart disease and stroke are closely tied, so reducing your risk for heart disease, he says, often reduces your risk for stroke. Major risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, a family history of the disease, and smoking. He says that obesity now has been determined to be an important risk factor as well. Balady recommends assessing your risks and says that the American Heart Association’s risk assessment site can help you calculate your 10-year risk for heart disease and stroke. A risk assessment greater than 20 percent, he says, is considered very high.
Balady suggests three manageable ways to reduce your overall risk: incorporating at least 30 minutes a day of moderate physical activity into your life, controlling calorie intake by healthful eating, and not smoking.
Balady will hold a free question-and-answer session about coronary heart disease tomorrow, Thursday, February 9, from noon to 1 p.m. at the Occupational Health Center reception area at the Commonwealth Medical Group building, 930 Commonwealth Ave. (entrance on Pleasant Street). To register, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.