Apparently, heart disease is on the rise!
The Wall Street Journal analyzed rising rates of heart disease among middle-aged Americans (between 45 and 64), finding some of the healthiest places, like Colorado Springs, Fort Collins, and Greeley, Colorado, saw some of the highest death rates from heart disease, with a rise of nearly 25% in 2015-2016, compared to 2010-11.1
Top Ten Cities with Greatest Rise in Middle Age Heart Disease
- Lexington, KY: up 27.9%
- Atlantic City, NJ: up 25.7%
- Corpus Christi, TX: up 25.7%
- Lincoln, NE: up 25.1%
- Ft. Collins, CO: up 24.4%
- Beaumont, TX: up 24.1%
- Ft. Wayne, IN: up 23.9%
- Greeley, CO: up 23.5%
- Colorado Springs, CO: up 23.3%
- Kennewick, WA: up 22.5%
Colorado, while it has the lowest rates of obesity and diabetes in the nation, has three health-conscious cities in the top ten! Thousands of people move to so-called healthy Colorado every year, so could these non-locals be bringing the heart disease?
A 2018 report found newer residents had lower rates of being overweight and obese than existing residents, which only confuses researchers in their quest to identify a cause for the sharp rise in heart disease.
In This Article
Why More Heart Disease?
Doctors and researchers continue to struggle to find the reason for this precipitous rise in heart disease. While diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity are on the rise in most of these areas, healthy, fit, middle-aged folks are also collapsing from heart disease.
At the funeral of one 55-year-old victim who collapsed during a mountain bike ride in Colorado, his wife urged all of her husband’s friends to get their hearts checked out, even though most of them played hockey and rode mountain bikes. Many of them did get checked, and a whopping 11 of them subsequently received stents!1
So, why do you think heart disease is on the rise amongst otherwise healthy people? Is it too little exercise or, as mentioned above, too much exercise? Is it our diet? Smoking? Could it be our emotional health?
What about Diet?
Could diet be to blame? In one 2018-19 report, a screening of elementary school children showed more than 25% were obese and 19.2% had high cholesterol.1 Perhaps a lifetime of the Standard American Diet (SAD) spiked with junk food and highly processed comfort foods are behind this new middle-age surge in heart disease.
Interestingly, the 35-64 age group has several more cardiovascular risk factors than the 65 and older age group, including high blood pressure, smoking, and excess sodium or salt intake.1
I would be remiss not to not mention that the only diet that has repeatedly reversed heart disease in numerous studies is the vegan diet. The original study, published in the Journal of American Medicine in 1999 by Dr. Dean Ornish, employed intensive lifestyle changes, including a 10%-fat whole foods vegetarian diet, aerobic exercise, stress management training (meditation), smoking cessation, and group psychosocial support, for five years.2,3
The mainstream takeaway from the Ornish study may be that we should consume a primarily plant-based diet and consume less meat and animal products. Studies suggest the longest-lived people on the planet (in the “Blue Zones”) eat a diet that averages ~10% animal protein, or meat (3-4 oz.) only five times a month.4
Furthermore, in recent years, there has been a major shift in the kind of fats we consume. Omega-3 fatty acids, from, say, fish and flax, are said to be heart-healthy, while omega-6 fatty acids, from seeds, are said to be pro-inflammatory and unhealthy for the heart.5
While the American Heart Association sharply debates these findings,6 new research suggests the problem may be a dramatic shift in the ratios of omega 3s to omega 6s we consume. Highly processed omega-6 vegetable oils are the hallmark of a shelf-stable processed food.
For most of our evolution, the ratio of omega-3 fats to omega-6 fats was 1:1. But, in the last three decades, consumption and quality of omega-6 fats has changed dramatically. Today, the average American has an omega-6-to-omega-3 ratio of 20:1. This increased ratio has been linked to a host of chronic health concerns, including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular issues.7,8
The quality and makeup of modern omega-6 fats has changed dramatically for the worse. Omega-6 fats are derived from seeds and are highly vulnerable to rancidity when exposed to light and air. Remember, the fatty acids live deep inside each seed. To stabilize seed oils, they are highly processed, bleached, boiled, and deodorized to be shelf-stable. Today, these oils are used in breads and packaged goods to extend shelf life.
There is no comparison between these shelf-stable cooking oils and consuming seeds. These processed oils may extend shelf life, but don’t be fooled—they do not extend your life!
Could it Be Too Much Exercise?
The science is clear—a sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. But what about too much exercise? Studies way back in the 1970s reported increased cardiovascular damage in endurance athletes, such as marathon runners.10
Recent studies have followed endurance athletes and have identified increased risk of heart disease in long-term endurance athletes. One report concluded that:
“Emerging evidence from epidemiological studies and observations in cohorts of endurance athletes suggest that potentially adverse cardiovascular manifestations may occur following high-volume and/or high-intensity long-term exercise training, which may attenuate the health benefits of a physically active lifestyle. Accelerated coronary artery calcification, exercise-induced cardiac biomarker release, myocardial fibrosis, atrial fibrillation, and even higher risk of sudden cardiac death have been reported in athletes.”9
Back in the 1980s, I started researching the long- term damage of over-exercising. To help people avoid the wear and tear from exercise, I wrote Body, Mind, and Sport and published studies on the benefits of nose breathing vs. mouth breathing during exercise. I wanted to reverse the “no pain, no gain” credo and give athletes permission not to break themselves down to build themselves up.
Read my nose breathing articles here and learn how much exercise is good and how much is harmful.
Could it Be Stress + Broken Hearts?
The science is in! Our emotions have a direct impact on prevalence of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.11-14 A number of clinical and experimental studies concluded:
“Strong emotions, especially negative emotions, such as hostility, anger, depression and anxiety, precipitate coronary heart disease . On the one hand, coronary heart disease patients have difficulty in coping with stress and depression and experience negative emotions, like anger or frustration. On the other hand, positive emotions, especially hope, contribute to health benefits and lead to lower levels of coronary heart disease and other diseases.”11
Today, perhaps due to living in such a fast-paced society with excessive screen time, levels of stress, anxiety, and depression are sharply rising in America. Could this be the link to rising levels of middle age heart disease?15
What You Can Do: Ayurveda—A Sattvic Lifestyle
The branch of Ayurveda that deals with longevity is called rasayana.16 The goal of longevity or rasayana therapy is to live a sattvic life. Sattva is defined as living a pure, loving, kind, non-violent life, dedicated to bringing benefit to the world, living a healthy lifestyle, and eating whole foods. There are four main types of rasayanas:4
- Ahara rasayana – Eating whole, organic, seasonal food.16
- Vihara rasayana – A lifestyle in sync with the circadian clock.16
- Acharya rasayana – Living a peaceful, calm, non-violent life focused on compassion, gratitude, and love.16
- Aushadha rasayana – Using herbal rasayanas to ward off the woes of stress.17
These four types of rasayana have to do with bringing sattva into the food, lifestyle, behavior, and herbs you consume. By contrast to a sattvic person, a rajasic person is satisfied through stimulation of the senses and a tamasic person is rarely satisfied, finding safe haven in retreat and withdrawal from life’s stressors.
Living a sattvic life is predicted to fill your heart with love and kindness and maximize your longevity!
What do you think is the reason for the sharp increase in heart disease, even in healthy cities? I would love to hear your theories!