Summary by Sheeva Sowdagar
Over time, the accumulation of more knowledge and insights onto the factors of our health have helped us improve our health, prevent diseases, and learn from our past health mistakes. General heart health, influenced by the environment and consequent behavioral practices, has seen a great change in history. At the start of the 20th century, heart disease was not a cause for a significant amount of deaths in Americans but by the 1960’s it accounted for most deaths. In the late 1960’s, death as a result of heart disease had reached a peak and death by heart attack was common in the ages of 50-60 year-old Americans.
Since then, coronary mortality has significantly decreased to the current rate of about 425,000 deaths per year and average life span has increased by about 8.7 years due to the decline in deaths resulting from poor heart health. This rise in health thanks to public health and medicine measures with the purpose of improving heart health. In the 1960’s around 40% of adults smoked, but this percentage has fallen to 15%. Smoking play a large role in heart disease; it increases blood pressure, reduces exercise endurance, and increases susceptibility to high cholesterol and blood clotting. Smoking in conjunction to other heart disease risk factors, such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, or high blood pressure, significantly raises the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Average blood levels of cholesterol have also played a role in decreases the rate of coronary mortality as high cholesterol can nearly double the risk of heart disease. The difference between modern medicine and that of the past is what is considered as a normal cholesterol level. In the 1960’s, doctors considered a cholesterol level of 240mg/dL to be healthy. At the time, most adults had a cholesterol level of 240mg/dL but now only 12% of adults are at this level. Today, 240mg/dL or higher is regarded as high and 200mg or less is ideal.
The reason behind all these health improvements is rooted in change in treatments. Treating health factors such has high cholesterol and high blood pressure has saved many from coronary mortality while poor treatment has induced the deterioration of coronary health. 1/3 of adults have high blood pressure but only have of them treat it. Those who have reached a life-threatening point of heart health, they undergo procedures to get heart stents to keep the arteries from closing. However, this treatment has shown little to no advantage over noninvasive treatment, such as diet and exercise, raising the idea that living habits may prevent the need for invasive procedures regarding coronary health.
The indigenous population of the Tsimane in South America only have 1/10 of their population to be at risk of heart disease and that their heart health at 80 years old to be in the same condition as Americans in their 50s. The Tsimane have a hunter-gatherer way of living that has them active for 4-7 hours a day, compared to the most Americans who barely reach 30 minutes of activity a day. The Tsimane are also accustomed to eating unprocessed food and have a diet filled with carbohydrates and protein, whereas the American diet is fat and sugar-rich and highly processed. The difference between the lifestyle and the resulting health conditions of the Tsimane and modern Americans, suggests that operations, such as those for stents, could be greatly reduced or diminished through a change in lifestyle. Modifying our diets and incorporating more activity in our lives could be the key to a happy heart.
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