Dr. Travis Stork’s heart-to-heart advice about America’s biggest killer
Dr. Travis Stork, co-host of medical advice show “The Doctors,” has his pulse on how Americans can avoid heart disease, the nation’s No. 1 killer and most expensive health condition.
National data point to why physicians and nonprofit health organizations are encouraging people to become more aware of heart disease during February’s American Heart Month:
• Treatment of cardiovascular disease, including heart disease and stroke, accounts for about $1 of every $6 spent on health care, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
• The total cost of cardiovascular diseases in America, in terms of health care expenditures and lost productivity, hit an estimated $444 billion in 2010.
• An estimated 83 million Americans, or more than one of every three, live with at least one type of cardiovascular disease.
• An estimated 935,000 heart attacks and 795,000 strokes occur annually.
• Nearly 4 million people report disabilities from heart disease or stroke.
Stork, author of “The Lean Belly Prescription” and “The Doctor Is In: A 7-Step Prescription for Optimal Wellness,” offers insights into how to combat this costly condition.
InsuranceQuotes.com: What’s one lifestyle change today someone can make to improve their heart health?
Dr. Travis Stork: I always get back to the simplicity of walking 30 minutes a day. The data shows walking 30 minutes a day can add three years to your life. It doesn’t require expensive equipment. It doesn’t require any skill sets. And what else I love about walking is that it … can do something interesting for your heart, which is it can increase the quality time you spend with loved ones.
All too often in our hectic world, we settle into the couch, and I think adding a daily walk into your schedule reminds you to be on your feet more. Even if it’s informal walks throughout the day. I always say, get on your feet more and sit less. No matter what the activity may be, if you’re on the phone, get on your feet more. And make it a habit with your family, because your kids will watch you and tend to engage in your habits.
InsuranceQuotes.com: What types of screenings are important?
Stork: Blood pressure and cholesterol are the classic screenings you should engage in. (Nearly 68 million adults have high blood pressure and an estimated 71 million adults have high cholesterol, according to the CDC). Also, making sure your blood glucose levels are normal, because a lot of times people can be walking around with pre-diabetes or diabetes and not know it. That’s a major risk factor for heart disease.
The body mass index has flaws, but understanding, based on your body mass index, if you’re in the overweight or obese category can allow you — with your physician — to put an action plan together. Because obesity is a risk factor for heart disease and a great many people who are actually in the obese category don’t even know it, they don’t really realize that they should be taking charge of their health before it is too late.
Heart disease is primarily a silent killer, and that’s why if you go to your doctor and get your baseline cholesterol and blood pressure checked, your doctor can then work with you on how frequently you need to get it rechecked. The blessing is if you get these things under control, you’re going to end up saving a lot of visits to the doctor’s office in the long run.
InsuranceQuotes.com: What’s the connection between belly fat and heart disease?
Stork: There is a connection, and that’s what’s really important to remember. With all of the risk factors for heart disease, it’s all about connections. The more connections or risk factors you have for heart disease, the more likely your risk for developing heart disease.
Just like smoking is a risk factor, increased abdominal fat – AKA visceral belly fat – is a risk factor. Visceral fat is pro-inflammatory in the body. What that means is that the visceral fat is secreting inflammatory substances. It increases your blood levels of cortisol (a hormone). Cortisol, over time, can increase your blood pressure. And it also creates a feedback mechanism where the more cortisol you’re producing, ironically, your body stores more body fat, so it creates this vicious cycle.
The end point can be what’s happening inside your heart’s arteries, which is plaque deposits are evolving over time because, again, a lot of visceral fat typically means high blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and that means more and more cholesterol deposits in your arteries. The good news is visceral belly fat is the easiest fat to lose. That’s why I always preach: Eat well and be active. Eat well and be active. Eat well and be active. So many of these risk factors can be improved by doing those two things.