Rethinking Retirement  

Can't Cure Heart Disease?

Why We Can't Cure Heart Disease

by Mark Gomez

There is a terrorist in America who claimed 685,089 lives back in 2003 alone. This was more than cancer, auto accidents, and the number of American lives lost in 9/11 combined.

The terrorist is still running loose, too.
But this terrorist is not of the human kind. It’s heart disease. And though its overall numbers have declined slightly in recent years—largely because fewer people are smoking—it’s still causing widespread destruction today.
It wasn’t always this way. Back around 1900, American men and women were mostly dying from infections. The top killers of the day were tuberculosis (TB), influenza (the flu), pneumonia, and … believe it or not, diarrhea—all diseases caused by either a virus, a bacterium, or more generally, a lack of sanitation.
Then, as the 20th century unfolded, city health departments began popping up nationwide, and a number of medical and technological breakthroughs advanced our understanding of the microbes that caused disease. Soon, sophisticated sanitation practices became standard and new medicines became widely used. The top viral and bacterial killers were wiped off their pedestal.
By 1920, heart disease rose to the top of the death list by default and has been there ever since.
This historical line of thinking begs the question: If we once nearly eradicated those infectious killers so effectively, why can’t we do the same with heart disease?
The answer is because heart disease is unlikely to ever be completely cured by a pill or vaccine. It’s really more of a lifestyle issue, and we should be approaching it as such.
Don’t get me wrong: Current heart disease medications—like the statin drugs for controlling cholesterol—undoubtedly have their place in preventive health care and they definitely save lives. But the only way we’ll ever significantly decrease the number of heart disease deaths is if we collectively change the way we live.
Today, most of us are living highly stressed lives that are grossly out of balance. For starters, our commutes are ridiculously long and our jobs are overly demanding. Not surprising, our time away from work is extremely limited. This leaves precious little time and energy left to exercise, prepare nutritious meals, or to spend quality time with our family or friends.
As a consequence, we’re anxious, depressed, overweight, overly medicated, and generally feeling poorly. From this milieu, we’re contracting chronic diseases earlier in our lives than ever before.
It’s not that we wouldn’t like to change how we live. Most of us would prefer to live a more balanced life, one that is more manageable and less stressful.
It’s not that we don’t get the specifics of preventive health care, either. We’re fairly aware, for instance, that exercise is a good thing, that we should manage our weight, and that we should eat less fat.
No, the reason that so many of us are dying of heart disease is not because we don’t desire change or that we are uninformed; it’s because we’re still viewing heart disease as a medical issue—one where that magic pill will eventually save us in spite of the insanity we bring upon ourselves and chronically endure.
The sooner we reframe heart disease as a lifestyle issue, the sooner we’ll begin addressing the unhealthy way we’re living. We’ll need to start by acknowledging that making behavioral changes within the context of modern day demands is extremely difficult to do and professional assistance is often required.
Until we make this switch, this particular terrorist will continue its deadly rampage … eighty-eight years and counting.
Mark Gómez, MHSE, MA, ACSM-cPT, NSCA-CPT, is a health educator and personal fitness trainer. He is the owner of Four Seasons Health and Fitness, a private fitness studio in Fort Collins, Colorado. You may contact him at (970) 556-2920 or via e-mail at

Copyright 2007, Mark C. Gómez, All Rights Reserved. Republished with permission.

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