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Some believe exercise is the only thing needed to achieve health, but a balanced diet light on fast food and junk food can help people avoid high cholesterol and high blood pressure decreasing the risk of heart disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of men and women in the United States.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Jackeline M. Perez Rivera

Physical fitness not only part to heart health puzzle

11 Mar 2013 | Lance Cpl. Jackeline Perez Rivera

Heart health is not just for the out-of-shape masses. Even those who appear to be in great shape should take the time to assess their risks for heart disease.

February is American Heart Month, a time to become better educated about heart disease, the number one killer of men and women in the United States.

“Marines think as long as they’re fit, they’re healthy,” said John Swett, a health educator and tobacco cessation program coordinator with Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune.

Many Marines believe physical fitness alone will prevent heart problems, said Swett. While being overweight is a significant risk factor for cardiovascular disorders, an unhealthy diet, tobacco use and other risk factors are big indicators of future problems.

“It’s a nondiscriminatory disease,” said Swett. “It doesn’t care who you are. Officers, enlisted, males and females can be at risk.”

While heart problems do not discriminate on a superficial level, heart risks increase or decrease with the way a person treats their body. While some risk factors such as heredity are beyond a person’s control, most of the causes can be managed.

“The things you do on a daily basis play a role in what’s going to happen,” said Swett.

A survey by the Department of Defense shows 32 percent of active duty service members smoked cigarettes in comparison to 21 percent of the general population. Smoking cigarettes and using other tobacco products damage the heart, as well as the structure and function of blood vessels, said Swett.

“Nicotine and tobacco also decrease our arteries’ ability to expand and contract,” said Swett.

The damage created by smoking increases the risk of plaque buildup in the arteries, which hardens over time, narrowing the passageway and obstructing blood flow throughout the body, leaving smokers with a higher risk of heart disease.

A healthy heart diet is also neglected by Marines, said Swett. Foods high in salt such as frozen and canned foods can cause high blood pressure, a leading cause of heart disease. High cholesterol, typically caused by a diet high in fat, is also a big piece of the heart health puzzle.

“People don’t realize what they are taking in,” said Swett. “Think about what you’re consuming.”

Physical activity is one way to help prevent heart disease however, on its own it may not be enough.

Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune provides heart health classes along with classes on healthy diets and tobacco cessation for service members and their families.

For more information call 451-3712.