Focusing more on lifestyle issues and their relationships with functional health, data from the Alameda County Study suggested that people can improve their health via exercise, enough sleep, maintaining a healthy body weight, limiting alcohol use, and avoiding smoking. Health and illness can co-exist, as even people with multiple chronic diseases or terminal illnesses can consider themselves healthy.
There’s no doubt that exercise is essential for a strong heart. One 2018 study published in the journal Circulation found that physical activity can even counteract a genetic risk for heart disease. The researchers looked at 500,000 men and women in the U.K. and found that those at the highest risk of heart troubles who had high levels of physical fitness had a 49% lower risk of coronary heart disease. While the AHA recommends 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, Gianos urges 30 to 60 minutes every day. Overall the goal is to move daily, but don’t feel you have to run 20 miles a day. “Extreme exercise has not been noted to be protective,” Gianos says, “and it may add some harm.”
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Having that kind of control over your heart health is particularly welcome news right now, with cardiovascular disease remaining the number-one killer of both men and women. A recent CDC report revealed that “largely preventable” heart problems killed around 415,000 Americans in 2016. Under its Million Hearts campaign—which aims to prevent 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2022—the CDC identified approximately 2.2 million hospitalizations and 415,000 deaths from heart attacks, strokes, heart failure and related conditions in 2016 that likely could have been avoided.
Personal health depends partially on the active, passive, and assisted cues people observe and adopt about their own health. These include personal actions for preventing or minimizing the effects of a disease, usually a chronic condition, through integrative care. They also include personal hygiene practices to prevent infection and illness, such as bathing and washing hands with soap; brushing and flossing teeth; storing, preparing and handling food safely; and many others. The information gleaned from personal observations of daily living – such as about sleep patterns, exercise behavior, nutritional intake and environmental features – may be used to inform personal decisions and actions (e.g., "I feel tired in the morning so I am going to try sleeping on a different pillow"), as well as clinical decisions and treatment plans (e.g., a patient who notices his or her shoes are tighter than usual may be having exacerbation of left-sided heart failure, and may require diuretic medication to reduce fluid overload).
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Fruits and vegetables work their magic in several ways. First, they provide heart-healthy nutrients, including fiber, antioxidants, potassium, B vitamins, and vitamins A and C, explains Cynthia Sass, a registered dietitian in private practice in Los Angeles and New York. And nonstarchy vegetables—from spinach to broccoli to peppers—are low in calories and carbohydrates too, helping keep weight under control. Not to mention, veggies supply prebiotics, nondigestible carbs that serve as food for beneficial probiotic bacteria.
Since the late 1970s, the federal Healthy People Initiative has been a visible component of the United States’ approach to improving population health. In each decade, a new version of Healthy People is issued, featuring updated goals and identifying topic areas and quantifiable objectives for health improvement during the succeeding ten years, with assessment at that point of progress or lack thereof. Progress has been limited to many objectives, leading to concerns about the effectiveness of Healthy People in shaping outcomes in the context of a decentralized and uncoordinated US health system. Healthy People 2020 gives more prominence to health promotion and preventive approaches and adds a substantive focus on the importance of addressing social determinants of health. A new expanded digital interface facilitates use and dissemination rather than bulky printed books as produced in the past. The impact of these changes to Healthy People will be determined in the coming years.