June Leffler Published

American Heart Month A Reminder Of The Leading Cause Of Death

A 3-D simulation of a human heart created by The Living Heart project.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and in West Virginia. For February, American Heart Month, health officials are reminding folks that there are ways to reduce their risk for heart attack, stroke and chronic heart illnesses.

About 5,000 West Virginians will die annually from some form of heart disease, according to 2019 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That means heart disease is killing more people (197 deaths per 100,000 West Virginians) than COVID-19 (152 per 100,000) or drug overdoses (53 per 100,000) in the state.

“The good news is that heart disease is largely preventable,” said Dr. David Goff, director of the Division of Cardiovascular Sciences at the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute, which is part of the National Institutes of Health. “By taking care of yourself, you can really improve your heart health and reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, and be more likely to be there longer for your friends and family.”

Goff said quitting smoking, exercising regularly and eating a balanced diet that limits fatty foods is the best way to help your heart.

As a native of North Carolina, Goff understands that these healthy habits aren’t as common in certain regions.

“We have more people who smoke cigarettes. And of course, that’s really bad for your heart health,” Goff said. “We tend to eat a diet that is higher in fat. We put a lot of what we called ‘seasoning’ in our greens, and that was usually some bacon grease or fatback or a piece of ham.”

West Virginians are more likely to have a smoking habit than those living in any other state. Southerners and Appalachians have higher rates of obesity and lower rates of daily physical activity, too.

“The most important thing is to get off the couch and do something,” Goff said. “Anything’s better than nothing. So if you’re somebody who really hasn’t been getting very much activity, you know, walking down to the postbox at the street or walking to the end of the block is a good way to start.”

Appalachia Health News is a project of West Virginia Public Broadcasting with support from Charleston Area Medical Center and Marshall Health.