Stepping up prevention efforts could brighten up predictions.
Baby boomers have been blamed for a litany of social woes, from the breakdown of the American family to global warming. The American Heart Association (AHA) adds another: sparking a huge increase in cardiovascular disease and health care costs over the coming decades. But this one boomers could walk away from — literally.
The baby boom began in 1946 and ended in 1964. By 2030, anyone born during that period will be ages 65 and older, the key years for cardiovascular disease to blossom. (We use the term “cardiovascular disease” to cover a range of heart and artery conditions, including heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and peripheral artery disease, among others.)
In a report, the AHA offers a gloomy forecast for cardiovascular disease in 2030: high blood pressure, up 10%; heart disease, up 17%; heart failure and stroke, each up 25%. If the projections are accurate, today’s 81 million American adults with cardio vascular disease will swell to 110 million by 2030; the cost of treating them will balloon to $818 billion.
The rising tides of obesity and inactivity are certainly helping lift heart disease rates. But most of the boost comes from baby boomers passing from the Age of Aquarius to the Age of Arthritis.
Call to action
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood sugar are huge contributors to cardiovascular disease. They narrow and stiffen blood vessels throughout the body. They encourage the growth of cholesterol-filled plaque inside arteries. They corrode the intricate valves of the heart. And they make the heart work harder than it should to deliver oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the body.
The upshot isn’t pretty: heart attacks and strokes from ruptured plaque, angina from narrowed coronary arteries, claudication (leg pain when walking) from narrowed arteries in the legs, shortness of breath and other problems from damaged valves, heart rhythm problems from abnormal growth of the heart, heart failure from overwork, and more.
Some people are born with genes that put them on a nearly unstoppable collision course with cardiovascular disease. They are in the minority. For most of us, the AHA calls cardio vascular conditions “largely preventable.”
Adopting healthy habits can dramatically reduce the chances of having a heart attack or stroke or developing other forms of cardiovascular disease. The earlier in life you start, the greater your chances of avoiding a date with cardiovascular disease during your lifetime. If cardiovascular disease is already on your dance card, the same habits can help you keep it at bay.
For those of us who haven’t naturally adopted heart-healthy habits, there’s no simple solution or course of action. We need to take action and make changes. Here are proven strategies for protecting the heart and arteries (and thereby everything else from the brain to the toes):
Exercise every day.
Aim for a healthy weight.
Eat foods that promote health; avoid those that don’t.
If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
If we take the AHA’s gloomy prediction as a call to action instead of a done deal and improve our prevention efforts, we could significantly brighten the forecast.