A new report estimates that nearly half of all U.S. adults have some form of heart or blood vessel disease, a medical milestone that’s mostly due to recent guidelines that expanded how many people have high blood pressure.
The American Heart Association said on Jan. 31 that more than 121 million adults had cardiovascular disease in 2016. Taking out those with only high blood pressure leaves 24 million, or 9 percent of adults, who have other forms of disease such as heart failure or clogged arteries.
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Measuring the burden of diseases shows areas that need to improve, the association’s chief science and medical officer, Dr. Mariell Jessup, said in a statement.
High blood pressure, which had long been defined as a top reading of at least 140 or a bottom one of 90, dropped to 130 over 80 under guidelines adopted in 2017. It raises the risk of heart attacks, strokes, and many other problems, and only about half of those with the condition have it under control.
Being diagnosed with high blood pressure doesn’t necessarily mean you need medication right away; the first step is aiming for a healthier lifestyle, even for those who are prescribed medicine. Poor diets, a lack of exercise, and other bad habits cause 90 percent of high blood pressure.
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The report is an annual statistics update by the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health and others.
—Heart and blood vessel disease is linked to 1 of every 3 deaths in the United States and kills more Americans than all forms of cancer and respiratory diseases like pneumonia combined.
—Certain groups have higher rates than others; 57 percent of black women and 60 percent of black males.
—Coronary heart disease, or clogged or hardened arteries, caused 43 percent of cardiovascular deaths in the United States, followed by stroke (17 percent), high blood pressure (10 percent) and heart failure (9 percent).
Staying Active Can Help Protect Your Heart
A study, published in the May 15, 2018, edition of the journal Circulation, concluded that increasing physical activity levels over a span of six years in middle age was linked to a significantly decreased risk of heart failure.
“The results are not too surprising given that people that exercise [typically] maintain health longer than individuals that do not exercise,” said Dr. Deepak Gupta, a Vanderbilt University Medical Center cardiologist.
Gupta said the report again emphasizes how important physical activity is for good health.
“We would expect that individuals that increase their physical activity lower their future risk of heart failure, and these results now provide the supporting scientific evidence,” Gupta told Healthline. “An equally important finding is that individuals who were active initially, but became less active over time, were at increased risk for future heart failure.”
The researchers used data previously gathered from 15,792 participants in the federally funded Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study. Participants, with an average age of 60, were recruited from 1987 to 1989 in Forsyth County, North Carolina; Jackson, Mississippi; Minneapolis, Minnesota; and Washington County, Maryland.
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They were monitored annually for an average of 19 years for cardiovascular-related diseases such as heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.
Plus, at the first and third ARIC study visits—which were six years apart—each participant filled out a questionnaire asking them to evaluate their physical activity levels.
These were categorized as:
- poor: no exercise
- intermediate: 1–74 minutes per week of vigorous intensity or 1–149 minutes per week of moderate exercise
- recommended: at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous intensity or at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity
Participants categorized as meeting recommended activity levels at both the first visit and then six years later at the third visit, had the largest decrease of heart failure risk—an overall decrease of 31 percent.
This risk of heart failure also continued to diminish with more activity. It decreased by about 12 percent in participants who increased their physical activity levels from poor to intermediate or recommended, or from intermediate to recommended.
Jessica Peralta from HealthLine contributed to this report.