A study which analyzed data from 1988 to 2014 found that most Americans have suboptimal health.

Unfortunately, there’s not much reason for optimism from this study.

Researchers from the UCLA and the University of Washington scrutinized data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) to assess the cardiovascular health of Americans, as well as disparities by race, ethnicity, and nativity (foreign-born vs U.S.-born). The NHANES interview includes demographic, socioeconomic, dietary, and health-related questions. In this study, researchers assessed the participants’ overall cardiovascular health from seven parameters: blood pressure, cholesterol, hemoglobin A1c, body mass index, physical activity, diet, and smoking.

They found that overall, less than half of Americans over 25 can boast optimal health: 40 percent for whites, 25 percent for Mexican Americans, and 15 percent for African Americans. Interestingly, although there is still a large disparity between whites and non-whites, the disparity has decreased in time, largely because whites have become less healthy — not because other ethnicities have become healthier.

So, as George A. Mensah, MD, from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), points out in an accompanying editorial, the narrowing of disparities is no cause for celebration. Mensah suggests that the cardiovascular health and prevention and control of related risk factors should be a key focus for the NIH.

According to the CDC, every year, 735,000 Americans have a heart attack — and 610,000 people die of heart diseases. Heart diseases are the leading cause of death for most people in the United States, including African Americans, Hispanics, and whites — only for American Indians or Alaska Natives and Asians or Pacific Islanders, heart disease is second to cancer.

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The best way to improve overall health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease is through a healthy diet and regular exercise. Studies have shown that as little as 15 minutes of exercise per day can do wonders for your body, though logging a bit more is better.

In terms of nutrition, it’s not about following a strict diet — just reducing the level of baked foods (especially chips, biscuits, and cakes), processed foods, and red meat (pork, beef, and lamb), and replacing them with healthy fruits, vegetables, and legumes, can do wonders for your heart, as well as your waistline.

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