Skip to main content

It’s Time to Start Thinking About Your Heart Health

Cancer conjures fear, yet many people remain acutely unaware of the silent killer that is cardiovascular disease. It quietly waits and often strikes without warning. Few families are untouched by this disease, including my own.

My family was affected by heart disease long before I was born. My paternal grandfather died in 1961. My dad was only fifteen at the time. Granted, my grandfather did smoke and worked in a highly stressful job that involved long shifts in an iron foundry. He created molds and then poured the molten iron for cast iron cookware and other household items. Each time, while in my own kitchen, I reach for one of the skillets he made, I’m reminded of the grandfather I never met.

“Cardiovascular disease kills more people than the next seven causes of death combined.”

My maternal grandfather, a World War II veteran, died from a major heart attack while sleeping. I also have no memory of him. I was just two years old when he passed away. Again, he had a much different lifestyle and health profile that I do; he smoked and was diabetic. Both factors undoubtedly contributed to his early death.

Both of my grandfathers died in their early fifties and I’ve often wondered if that fact weighed heavy on my dad prior to becoming a grandfather himself. Fortunately, my dad is still alive and has seen most of his grandchildren graduate from high school, some from college, and one join the Air Force. He has been afforded the opportunities that his father was denied. My father has always put a huge emphasis on family time. I have a feeling his loss at an early age has given him a deeper appreciation of the time he has.

heart health model organ
Jesse Orrico

My wife has also been impacted by heart disease for much of her life. At 12 years old, her mother had her first heart episode. She vividly remembers seeing her mother being taken away in an ambulance, but not understanding words like angioplasty. During her senior year of high school, her mother underwent her first heart bypass surgery. She continued to deal with heart-related issues throughout our marriage. She also smoked for much of her life and did not lead an active lifestyle. She had her second bypass surgery while visiting us over the holidays. My wife watched her mother fight this disease throughout the majority of her adult life. In 2018, she lost her battle and passed away at the age of 69.

My family history may resonate with others who read this story. For an expert view, I’ve assembled input from medical experts who have weighed in on the science of heart disease and how this disease is largely preventable.

The Experts

John A. Osborne, M.D., Ph.D, FACC, FNLA: Dr. Osborne is a Harvard-trained MD, PhD (in Cardiovascular Physiology) Cardiologist-Lipidologist. He also has two decades of experience in clinical trials and in running a large preventative cardiology and lipid practice.  He is currently studying at the London School of Economics for a Master’s Degree in Cardiovascular Health Outcomes, Economics, and Management.

Salim S. Virani, M.D., Ph.D, FACC, FAHA: Dr. Virani is a tenured Professor in Cardiology and Cardiovascular Research Sections at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. He is also an investigator in the Health Policy, Quality, and Informatics Program at the Michael E. DeBakey VA HSR&D Center of Innovation in Houston, Texas.

The Numbers

“Cardiovascular disease kills more people than the next seven causes of death combined,” says Dr. Osbourne. Some other staggering facts provided by Dr. Osborne include:

  • 40% of us will die of heart-related disease.
  • 75%-80% of people with diabetes will die of cardiovascular disease.
  • In half of men and two-thirds of women, the first symptom is death (no warning).
  • More women with breast cancer die of heart disease than breast cancer.

“It’s estimated that nearly 18 million people (worldwide) die annually from cardiovascular disease,” stated Dr. Virani. “That is similar to losing the population of Syria each year.”

The Bright Side

While the above statistics may seem daunting, both Dr. Osborne and Dr. Virani believe that heart disease can be largely preventable with a few lifestyle changes. “The Mediterranean diet has shown some of the best research in reducing risks of heart disease,” says Dr. Osborne.

heart health fitness lifestyle
Kiattisak Lamchan/EyeEm/Getty Images

“A heart-healthy diet can also reduce the risk of developing diabetes, can help reduce the risk of developing some forms of cancer, improve quality of life, and can help with some forms of depression,” adds Dr. Virani.

For simplicity, Dr. Virani also broke it down to the ABCs (actually, ABCDEs) of heart health.

  • A: Assess the 10-year risk of heart attack or stroke
  • B: Blood pressure
  • C: Cholesterol and cigarette smoking
  • D: Diabetes
  • E: Exercise

“Just as there are screening tools for some cancers, there is now a screening that can help predict risk of heart disease,” says Dr. Osborne. “A coronary artery calcium test (CAC) utilizes a CT scan to gauge the buildup of plaque within the vessels supplying blood to the heart. This measurement can give a score that can help doctors assess an individual’s risk for heart disease.”

My wife and I have both chosen to live healthy, active lifestyles which includes not smoking, monitoring our cholesterol levels, and maintaining a healthy blood pressure. We know what a cruel impact that heart disease can have on the body and how it affects the family members of those who battle it. While not all heart-related illnesses can be prevented through these choices, a large number can be mitigated. We are thankful to live in a time where much more is understood about heart disease prevention and all of the additional tools that are available to help us avoid the fate of our family members. And while we can’t bring back those already lost, we can work to keep not only ourselves healthy but to also educate the next generation of our family. This is a disease that doesn’t have to be inherited.

For more information, the American Heart Association is a great resource for additional research findings about heart disease, heart-healthy eating, and other ways to reduce your risk of becoming a victim of this No. 1 killer.

Editors' Recommendations

Clay Abney
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Clay Abney is a PR guru and freelance writer living in the wild and wonderful state of West Virginia, where he spends his…
The 9 best movies to watch over Father’s Day weekend
Watch these films together and bond with your dad or father figure
Family watching TV together

In between grilling burgers and brats and checking sports scores, celebrating fatherhood presents a chance for men (and masculine-identifying people) to enjoy the people who appreciate and support them. Bonding over a great story on the big screen that both dads and children can relate to brings the entire family together for some fun!
Sure, they’ll still have to take out the garbage and clean the garage. But when the paternal figures in your life get an opportunity to rest on their day, the best Father's Day gift you can give is quality time. If his favorite hobby is watching movies, then you're in luck! Here are some Father's Day movies to watch with dear old Dad (Gramps, or Freat Grandpa). 

Daddy's Home (2015)

Read more
How to turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary
These tips will help you sleep better and feel rested in the morning
A redesigned bedroom with hardwood floors and a wood ceiling

Of all the rooms you'll spend time in over the course of your life, one of the most important is your bedroom. It’s where you start and end your day, and your mood when you wake up can affect your performance and attitude as you head out to take on the day.

When getting ready for bed at night, if you take the stresses of work and life to bed with you, you’re just not going to sleep well. As the place where you rest, recharge, and recenter yourself, your bedroom should be a sanctuary, a calming place that allows you to fully let go, relax, and get a good night’s sleep.

Read more
This is how long a Tempur-Pedic mattress lasts – plus, how to extend its lifespan
Tips to help your investment last longer
Tempur-Pedic Tempur Adapt mattress

Buying a Tempur-Pedic mattress is a process that should be done with an ample amount of care and consideration. Not only can mattresses be quite a significant financial investment, but because they serve as your foundation for sleeping night after night for what should be many years, it’s extremely important to buy a high-quality, comfortable mattress. After all, a poorly made mattress will break down prematurely and may fail to provide the support, pressure relief, temperature regulation, and comfort you need to get restful sleep. A bad mattress can even cause back, shoulder, hip, or neck pain, and if it does an inadequate job of arresting the transfer of motion, you may find yourself constantly disturbed by a bed partner's restlessness.

Tempur-Pedic mattresses are among the upper echelon of mattresses in terms of quality, comfort, and effective design, which is why they are consistently one of the most popular mattress purchases every year and adored by nearly every customer. Each Tempur-Pedic mattress model is specifically designed to precisely adapt to the weight, shape, and temperature of your body to eliminate potential pressure points and intimately contour to your body to provide maximal cradling support and comfort. The materials and construction of each mattress minimize motion transfer and enhance airflow and heat dispersion.

Read more