01/08/2013 06:19 BST | Updated 30/09/2013 06:12 BST

Heart to Heart


Becoming 'heart attack proof' requires proper diet, exercise and knowing your medical numbers.

Thanks to advancements in screenings, identifying risk factors and preventing heart disease through simple lifestyle changes, the war on heart disease could soon be declared over.

Cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes are still the leading cause of death. A third of all adults are obese, with body mass indexes greater than thirty and reports of zero aerobic activity. Childhood obesity has increased five-fold since the early 1980s.

Indeed most sudden deaths in young college-age athletes were related to cardiovascular disease, with the incidence of cardiac arrest tending to be higher among men than women.

Death from heart disease has been decreasing since the 1960s and it's come down largely because of decreased smoking, good medicines for blood pressure, and more recently cholesterol. But if you look at the youngest age groups, it's plateauing and beginning to go up in the mid-30s and mid-40s age groups.

The bottom line is that our fast food, sedentary, digital lifestyle is trumping the advances in medical science.

The upside is that a greater understanding of the role inflammation plays identifying biomarkers over the last decade has allowed doctors to better screen for heart disease and begin treatment to reverse the damage long before any symptoms or illness is apparent. We are all aware of the importance of cholesterol, but that only looks at 40 per cent of your risk.

It is not the person with the symptoms and the 90 per cent blocked artery that has the highest risk; we now understand the vascular biology of why people develop sudden heart attacks without any apparent previous problems.

Fortunately new, sophisticated screening techniques are able to identify very early stages of vascular disease and also screen for new biomarkers such as genomic screening, antioxidant measurement, inflammatory markers that influence the risk of plaque formation.

The atherosclerotic process is present and progresses for twenty-plus years before it causes a heart attack or a stroke. The earlier you indentify the process, the easier it is to halt or even reverse. The most important thought is to identify which lifestyle change will make the greatest contribution to your cardiovascular health. We are all unique individuals and we now live in an age where medicine and prevention can be tailored to our own needs. It's a dawn of a new era.