As the World Health Organization (WHO) puts it, cardiovascular diseases are a group of disorders affecting the heart and its blood vessels. This means all heart-related conditions like congenital and coronary heart disease and acute events like stroke come under this umbrella term.
Heart-related problems are among the leading causes of worldwide deaths. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 695,000 people succumbed to cardiac disease in 2021. The common notion was that men and women over ages 45 and 55 respectively were at risk of heart disease.
However, that is not the case anymore. It is found that every 1 in 20 young adults is diagnosed with a heart condition (5%). The rough age group would be 20 years and above. Shocking as it is, the world has witnessed too many young people (especially athletes) experiencing cardiac arrest in the past two years.
One famous example is that of Damar Hamlin, the bright 25-year-old footballer who collapsed on the field. This article will discuss the distressing connection between young adults and their vulnerability to developing heart issues (despite their age).
A Troubling Trend on the Horizon
The Mayo Clinic admits that sudden cardiac death in healthy adults, aged 35 and younger, is a rare occurrence. However, most such cases are associated with undiagnosed genetic heart disease.
In this condition, a person’s heart muscle grows to be too thick (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy). It is most common among young athletes involved in competitive sports. Besides this genetic disorder, other reasons for sudden fainting and cardiac-associated deaths include heart rhythm issues and blunt chest injuries.
If a young adult has a family history of cardiac disease, their chances of experiencing something similar are high. Nonetheless, most heart conditions are lifestyle disorders, and doctors believe that the contemporary sedentary way of living is dangerous.
In other words, poor dietary choices, late-night binge-watching, high-stress levels, a lack of frequent exercise, etc., increase any young adult’s risk of developing heart disease.
Must-Have Tools in a Young Adult’s Heart-Health Toolbox
The human body is the most advanced machine in the world. So, it has its own requirements to function smoothly as well as limitations. Since heart disease is rising among young adults, they need to pause and reflect on their lifestyle choices.
The following tools are a must-have to enjoy a long and heart-healthy life.
“You are what you eat” is literal and a healthy diet can work wonders in helping the heart work properly. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is sadder than most think because 63% of its calories come from highly processed foods.
These include packaged desserts, sodas, and potato chips, among others. Studies reveal that fast food is eaten one to three times a week in most American households. Furthermore, the age group consuming the most fast food ranges from 20 to 39 years.
Given these statistics, it’s high time that young adults ponder over their dietary choices. The Mayo Clinic’s heart-healthy eating plan includes large servings of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, fish, whole grains and legumes, and healthy fats such as olive oil.
It is important to avoid high-sodium foods, refined carbs, sugary stuff, saturated fats, and trans fats at all costs. In general, the Mediterranean diet and the DASH or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension are good places to start.
If one requires a customized plan, it’s best to consult a nutritionist or independently practicing cardiac nurses. The professionals will empower an individual to make heart-healthy choices for prevention or even recovery.
For instance – cardiac nurses undergo specialized training for not just heart disease diagnosis and treatment but also prevention through healthy lifestyle choices. After completing their nursing degree through offline or accelerated BSN programs online, they receive their RN license and work alongside cardiac surgeons, dieticians, etc. to gain experience.
According to Holy Family University, the supervised training environment allows them to plan and implement necessary interventions on a case-to-case basis. In other words, the nurse will examine the patient’s heart health history, current lifestyle, etc. to devise a personalized treatment plan.
This may include prescribing medication, promoting greater physical activity, weight reduction, and more. Some even have additional certifications to treat specific heart-related conditions like angina or heart attack.
The connection between good sleep and heart health finds its route through the alley of blood pressure. The CDC states that well-rested sleep brings down one’s blood pressure. The same is reversed in the case of those who sleep less than seven hours each day.
High blood pressure is one of the major risks of heart disease. The sad news is that hypertension in American adults is a chronic condition (one in three individuals). Besides insomnia or trouble falling (staying) asleep, sleep apnea threatens heart health.
If any of these conditions is severe and chronic, the individual must seek professional help. Besides that, the following self-help strategies should offer quality sleep –
- Sticking to a fixed sleeping schedule, where one goes to bed at the same time each night (weekdays or weekends). This helps the body adapt and wake up around the same time each morning.
- Getting adequate natural light, especially during the day
- Limiting all exercise or strenuous physical activity to the daytime whilst avoiding them a few hours before bedtime
- Having a blue light filter on electronic devices and shutting them down at least two hours before bedtime
- Ensuring the bedroom is kept dark, cool, and quiet towards the night
The current way of life is stressful simply because of how jam-packed and dysfunctional most people’s schedules are. Both happy (new marriage, pregnancy, job promotion) and sad events (overworking, relationship tensions, illness) can become a cause of stress.
The American Heart Association states that high levels of stress contribute to behaviors that threaten heart health. These include overeating, smoking, eating junk food, not taking prescribed medication, etc. Most people do not develop stress-related heart disease in a day or two.
Improper stress management is usually a pattern in their lives. The early symptoms of chronic stress include feeling constantly cranky, unexplained headaches, stomach upset, sleep problems, and back pain.
So, what can be done to manage stress effectively since it is impossible to avoid it altogether?
- Regular exercise helps the body to release its tension healthily. Besides the standard workout, it’s beneficial to include a nature walk or meditation session within one’s weekly schedule.
- Spending quality time with friends, family, and loved ones can help relieve stress, especially when such encounters involve sharing concerns
- Relaxation techniques like listening to soothing music are another healthy outlet for stress to leave the body.
- Adequate sleep and rest are needed, at least seven to nine hours every night.
- Some people find a stimulating hobby like painting, cooking, etc. helpful in distracting from constant negative thoughts.
Regular Health Screenings
The problem with heart disease (especially in young adults) is that the early stages are not easily self-diagnosable. This is also true because most people still believe that such conditions do not threaten the younger demographics.
One must never take any symptoms lightly. Since other conditions like blood pressure and sleep issues are closely related to heart disorders, routine screenings are a must. For instance – past the age of 18, blood pressure must be tested once every two years.
Those already at risk of high blood pressure must be screened once a year. As for cholesterol, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends starting as early as age nine. After the first test, screenings need to be done every five years.
Young adults can also be tested for blood sugar to ensure they’re not on the verge of being diabetic. If any of these related test results are outside the normal range, the healthcare provider can recommend further tests. These include an Electrocardiogram (ECG) or a chest X-ray.
Early diagnosis and disease management through medication and lifestyle changes promise a good prognosis.
Apart from the strategies mentioned above, young people must avoid tobacco and drug consumption. Many start in adolescence due to peer pressure, curiosity, or as a coping mechanism for stress. These habits not only lead to addiction but wreak havoc on physical and psychological health.
This includes the increased risk of heart disease, as stated by the American Addiction Centers. The most dangerous illicit substance of all is cocaine, linked to 25% of all heart attacks (non-fatal) between ages 18 and 45. Even a single session of this drug can lead to angina.
Moreover, one must avoid secondhand smoke as the chemicals in tobacco damage the heart and its blood vessels. The need of the hour for young adults is to return to a simpler way of life that keeps their heart healthy, body fit, and mind at peace.