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1 in 3 Americans Risk Heart Attack

March 2, 2017

Photo from high above of dozens of people wearing read and forming the shape of a heart, with text that reads: America's No. 1 killer is 90% preventable. Get Active!
The Bureau of Primary Health Care formed a human heart at HRSA headquarters in February to call attention to American Heart Month and the five-year HHS Million Hearts campaign. Cardiovascular diseases kill over 800,000 Americans each year.

If you're overweight, smoke, don't exercise, have elevated blood pressure and high cholesterol, you're on track to join the estimated 82 million Americans with heart disease, experts agree -- and you may die up to seven years earlier than you should.

To live longer, the single most important step is comparatively simple: Get active, said Virginia Hospital Center's Cathy Turner at a recent presentation for American Heart Month.

Reduced risk of heart disease is one of many benefits of exercising regularly, Turner said – noting that risk factors associated with four of the 10 leading causes of death in America decline with regular activity.

Yet, one in four Americans do not exercise at all; and inactivity among women is especially high.

The largest number of 30-day hospital readmissions (PDF - 368 KB) for Medicare patients is for congestive heart failures (134,500 in 2011 at a cost of $1.74 billion). And heart attacks and strokes are the first and fifth leading causes of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

"If there was a magic pill for health, physical activity would be it," explained Turner in a Feb. 15 Healthy Heart webcast co-hosted by the FedStrive health and the Fishers Lane wellness programs, "because it helps reduce your risk of so many different diseases."

Director of Health Promotion and Senior Health at Virginia Commonwealth, Turner recited a long list of benefits produced by regular exercise.

"It reduces our risk of dying from coronary heart disease, and of developing high blood pressure, colon cancer, diabetes … it can help maintain healthy bones, muscles, joints, it can reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression, it helps control your weight, develop lean muscles, (and) reduce body fat."

Clipart of a man relaxing on a couch with a bowl of popcorn, a laptop, and several soda cans lying around.
Disaster waiting to happen: One in three people have some type of heart of disease -- and one death every 39 seconds is caused by it. But one in four Americans is content to slouch on the couch.

Signs of a heart attack can happen suddenly or can develop slowly over hours, days and even weeks before a cardiac event, Turner said. Symptoms include pressure, fullness, squeezing or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes; pain spreading to the shoulder, neck or arms and/or teeth; and chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea or shortness of breath.

Warning signs can and do differ by gender, Turner said.  

Unlike men, women commonly experience heartburn, loss of appetite, unusual or unexplained tiredness, coughing or heart fluttering.

For more information, read the CDC's 6 Reasons to Talk to Your Family About Heart Disease.

To improve clinical practice, see the HHS Million Hearts campaign.

Date Last Reviewed:  July 2017