As we mourn the recent loss of celebrities like Lisa Marie Presley and Leslie Jordan, who have died from cardiac-related conditions, we ask the question: what can twentysomethings do now to lower the risk of heart-related illnesses later?
Although these specific celebrity deaths occurred in adults over the age of 50, health professionals at the University of Arizona's Campus Health believe young adults should take action now to reduce their risk of heart-related conditions.
Specifically, UA health professionals say people in their 20s should start eating healthy, exercising regularly and looking at their family medical history.
Dr. Harry McDermott, a physician at UA Campus Health, said in an email that a heart attack is usually related to cholesterol plaque buildup in the inside of the arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. High cholesterol and blood pressure are factors that enable cholesterol plaque buildup, as well as obesity and diabetes.
These factors can happen to anyone, no matter their age.
If cholesterol plaque builds up over time, it can rupture and cause blood clots in the artery, according to McDermott. This will then block the flow of oxygenated blood that would normally flow through the artery. If the heart is cut off from oxygen, the heart muscle tissue starts to die, causing the most detrimental consequence of a heart attack.
A heart attack is not the only disease that affects the organ. There are various cardiovascular diseases that can pose a risk to one’s life.
McDermott said in an email that young adults should start incorporating healthy habits into their lifestyle while they're still young. This includes 30-60 minutes of daily exercise, eating a balanced and nutritious diet and avoiding smoking vapes and other tobacco products.
He also suggested that by your 20s, you should begin keeping an eye on your blood pressure, blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels, and said these should be checked every three to five years.
Age and sex play significant factors in cardiovascular disease, according to McDermott. Men are more at risk than women, but the risk increases after the age of 50 no matter the sex.
Caitlin McKenna, a nutritional counselor at UA Campus Health, said someone with a family history of cardiovascular disease can lower their risk with diet tweaks, including lowering their overall cholesterol levels by limiting saturated fat in their diets and adopting more plant-based fats and proteins.
“Meats such as beef, pork and any fried meats contain saturated fat. We are looking for leaner sources of protein such as turkey, chicken and fish,” McKenna said. “Increase in fiber is good, specifically soluble fiber that can directly decrease LDL cholesterol, which is that cholesterol that can increase your risk for cardiovascular disease.”
The second recommendation McKenna explained is to add more soluble fiber to your diet. This can be found in plants, fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds. All of these foods can help lower LDL cholesterol.
The third recommendation McKenna made is understanding your family's medical history.
“Cardiovascular diseases are multifactorial. Having a history of cardiovascular disease automatically increases some type of risk,” McKenna said. “A patient will be doing ‘everything right’ nutrition and exercise-wise, but they can still have some type of cardiovascular disease biomarkers. This can include high cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and HDL cholesterol levels. Having high levels of LDL cholesterol can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.”
Although the risk of cardiovascular diseases and heart attacks increases more as a person ages, creating healthy habits and a well-balanced diet consisting of soluble fibers now can further aid to decrease risks of cardiovascular diseases and promote good heart health in the future, according to UA health professionals.
Heart health has been a national topic in light of the recent deaths of several celebrities, including one in Tucson.
- On Jan. 12, Lisa Marie Presley, the 54-year-old daughter of Elvis and Priscilla Presley, died after suffering a heart attack.
- Leslie Jordan, the 67-year-old Hollywood actor and LGBT+ icon, suffered a heart attack while he was driving. He crashed his car into the side of a building and died on Oct. 24.
- Tucson blues singer Anna Warr died of a heart attack on Jan. 15. The lead singer of Giant Blue, she was 52 years old.
*El Inde Arizona is a news service of the University of Arizona School of Journalism.
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