Everyone has heard the famous saying “a man is as old as his arteries,” but did you know that this famous quote is more than 300 years old? Indeed, this observation by the English physician Thomas Sydenham (1624-1689) looks like an early warning that traveled through time to tell us about our 21st-century lifestyle.1
The world’s population is aging, and aging predisposes us to a variety of chronic diseases, chiefly cardiovascular diseases, which remain the leading cause of premature death in modern societies. In the United States, for instance, it is estimated that more than 40% of the population will be affected by one or more forms of clinical cardiovascular disease by 2030.2
Among contributors to this situation, lifestyle choices and unhealthy dietary habits have a special role. Even if the major risk is advancing age itself, they are definitely recognized as risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, and they offer an interesting particularity; unlike age or genetics, out of sheer will, we can actually change them for the better!2
With today’s increased awareness of the important role of lifestyle in disease, nutrition has been on the rise not only to improve the general health and well-being of patients, but also to establish nutritional strategies to stabilize or sometimes even “reverse” the disease process itself.3 Dietary interventions are especially beneficial in case of hypertension (eg, the reduction of sodium or alcohol), or hypercholesterolemia (eg, the reduction of dietary cholesterol), or coronary disease (eg, the reduction of saturated and trans fats, of salt), among others.4-6
Leading a sedentary lifestyle is also increasingly widespread in many nations. For many, finding time becomes a challenge, and life itself becomes a routine where physical activities become scarce. Still, a lack of exercise is associated with hypertension, weight gain (a risk factor for hypercholesterolemia or diabetes), or coronary artery disease.7-10
When one thinks of tobacco, respiratory diseases might be the first that come to mind, but it should not be forgotten that smoking is also detrimental to arteries, making them more susceptible to the accumulation of atheroma plaque deposits, while exerting stress on the heart by making it work faster. It should also be noted that what is true for first-hand smoking also applies to second-hand smoking…7, 8, 10
Psychological stress in modern societies might also be considered a fact of life, but as stressful experiences evoke changes in cardiovascular physiology, there is emerging evidence that the brain may play a role in stress-related cardiovascular disease risk.11 Along with stress, inadequate sleep duration has become prevalent in the population, and not only does affect the quality of life, it also confers increased cardiovascular risk.12, 13 In this respect, it has been noted that interventions, such as yoga practice, could be a particularly strong lifestyle intervention for reducing cardiovascular risk, while meditation is also a field of research at the moment.14, 15
Whether it is changing food habits, quitting smoking, taking some time to practice sports or yoga, it all takes some time and effort, but when the reward is better health and a reduction of the cardiovascular disease threat, it is certainly worth it, isn’t it?