Op-Eds

A Healthy Heart: Debunking the Myths of Heart Disease

By Congressman Henry Cuellar

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Washington, February 8, 2008 | Yolanda C. Urrabazo ((202) 225-1640) | comments

Every year since 1963, Congress has required the President of the United States to declare February American Heart Month. In spirit of promoting healthy hearts, I join many in reaffirming my commitment this month to help raise awareness of heart disease and to offer simple preventative measures each of us can practice.

Heart disease continues to be America’s number one killer, claiming over 500,000 lives each year—half of which are women. As alarming as these facts are, however, many of us are uninformed; others summarily shrug it off as someone else’s disease. But, despite all the misconceptions of who is at risk of heart disease, the reality is clear: we all are.  

The perception that this disease is gender- or age-specific or only affects obese individuals couldn’t be further from the truth.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2 out of 3 teenagers already have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Among women, heart disease stands as the number one killer. Moreover, the general sentiment that “I feel fine” does not, but any means, exempt you from being at risk. In fact, 50% of men and 65% of women who die suddenly of heart disease have had no previous indication of symptoms. In short, the disease often comes as a surprise to those it strikes, which is why deterring it now before it’s too late is crucial.  

I fear that the preexisting misconceptions of this disease will lead to more uninformed Americans and ultimately lead to more deaths that could have been prevented. In my district, the percentage rate of Diabetes, one of the factors leading to heart disease, ranks above the national average. It’s a sobering statistic that must be addressed. Recognizing this grave issue, therefore, is a top priority of mine and should be for every American. 

This month, let us protect our hearts by focusing on a few easy actions that are sure to lessen our risks of heart disease. Next time you visit your doctor, make sure you leave knowing your “numbers” so as to get a clear picture of your risk: cholesterol numbers, body mass, blood pressure, and blood sugar level. These numbers, along with your doctor’s recommendations, will thus serve as a guide to healthy lifestyle practices.

I have personally adapted my lifestyle to what these numbers mean, and you, too, can adapt them to your individual state. A healthy diet, regular physical activity, healthy weight management, and avoiding smoking are four key ways to taking a proactive approach on your health. Positive changes such as exercising 30 minutes, 5 days a week or eating more fiber and choosing healthy oils, protein sources and carbohydrate sources all factor in to reducing the risk of heart disease drastically. 

Since heart disease affects so many people throughout the nation, especially in the 28th District of Texas, I urge you to speak with a family member, a co-worker or friend about the importance of taking preventative measures. I look forward to working in Congress to support patients and promoting policies that help to prevent heart disease. 

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