Get a handle on heart disease

Carolyn Magner | August 13, 2011

Are you at risk for heart disease? According to the American Heart Association, about 785,000 Americans have an initial heart attack and another 470,000 have a recurrent heart attack each year. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., accounting for more than one in every four deaths.


John Shook

Heart disease is the umbrella term for all cardiac conditions with coronary heart disease (CHD), also called coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common. CHD causes heart failure, angina (chest pain), heart attacks, arrhythmias and heart failure. As truckers you are particularly at risk due to the sedentary, high-stress nature of your job. Risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking, eating a high sodium/fatty diet and having a family history of heart disease puts you in a higher than average category for heart attack or other heart diseases.

For John Shook, 43, it was his high blood pressure that inspired him to drastically change his diet and add exercise to his routine. “I hated the blood pressure medication I had to take and was afraid my high blood pressure would lead to more serious heart conditions,” he says. Four years ago, the Mount Vernon, Ill., trucker embarked on a new road to health by losing weight and beginning exercising. He lost nearly 50 pounds and reversed his high blood pressure with help from Truckers News’ Fit for the Road program. Shook has kept his weight steady and today enjoys a healthy, active lifestyle along with normal blood pressure without medication. His success story is an example of the direct link between lifestyle and heart disease and the encouraging news that even small changes can improve your heart health.

Here’s how you can improve your cardiac health by living a healthy lifestyle:

Eat a healthy diet

Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables and limit salt in your diet. Eat foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol and high in fiber.

For help: CDC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Program website, www.cdc.gov.

Maintain a healthy weight

Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for heart disease. To determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, doctors calculate a number called the body mass index (BMI).

For help: Calculate your BMI at CDC’s Assessing Your Weight website, www.cdc.gov.

Exercise regularly

The Surgeon General recommends that adults should do moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week.

For help: CDC’s Nutrition and Physical Activity Program website, www.cdc.gov.

Limit alcohol use

Drinking too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure.

For help: CDC’s Alcohol and Public Health website, www.cdc.gov.

Don’t smoke

Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease.

For help: CDC’s Smoking & Tobacco Use website, www.cdc.gov.

Monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol

High blood pressure has no symptoms, so be sure to have it checked regularly. The same can be said for cholesterol levels.

Take your medicine

If you’re taking medication to treat high cholesterol, high blood pressure or diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions carefully.

Talk with your doctor

You and your doctor can work together to prevent or treat the medical conditions that lead to heart disease.

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