World Heart Day: Why it matters

September 29 is World Heart Day

  • Heart defects and cardiovascular disease affect all ages.
  • Even student athletes who are in peak condition can be affected by cardiac arrest.
  • Know your risk factors and keep your heart healthy with preventive maintenance.


Many people have been impacted by heart disease, either through a friend, a family member or challenges with their own health. Heart attacks, high blood pressure, heart defects, congenital anomalies and cardiovascular electrical disorders are widespread – and they can affect anyone at any age. Even student athletes that you would consider to be in peak physical condition can suffer cardiac arrest, like Daniel Phelps – a soccer player who passed away recently from this condition, as reported by The Seattle Times

On World Heart Day, communities, governments and countries across the world band together to focus on heart health by emphasizing ways to improve overall heart health. The goal is to combine resources to educate people on heart healthy habits so we can collectively work together to prevent as many deaths as possible from heart-related complications.

World Heart Day is for improving heart health awareness

World Heart Day is celebrated on September 29 every year. Heart disease is responsible for about half of all deaths from non-communicable diseases. World Heart Day was first established by the World Heart Federation (WHF) and is meant to spread the word about how heart disease and stroke are responsible for approximately 17.9 million lives per year – a leading cause of death worldwide.

The message from various organizations including WHF is simple—you can reduce your heart disease risk factors by eliminating tobacco use, altering unhealthy diet habits and increasing physical activity. By removing such risk factors, as much as 80 percent of premature deaths from heart disease and stroke could be eliminated.

You can reduce your heart disease risk factors by eliminating tobacco use, altering unhealthy diet habits and increasing physical activity. 

This year, the message of World Heart Day is even more important as COVID-19 has been shown to impact more seriously those with heart conditions.

Raising awareness of cardiac arrest as a leading cause of death among young athletes

Daniel Phelps was only 27 years old when he passed away in his sleep from sudden cardiac arrest. Phelps had spent his college years at the University of Washington playing on the soccer team and continued playing the sport after graduation as much as five days a week up until his death.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death among young athletes worldwide. It is what it sounds like – the heart suddenly stops beating. The statistics show that one in 23,000 male National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) soccer players, one in 36,000 NCAA football players, and one in 9,000 men’s NCAA basketball players are affected by sudden cardiac arrest.

Cardiac arrest can occur due to structural cardiovascular issues, congenital anomalies, and electrical disorders within the heart. Many young athletes do not know they have these heart issues until it is too late.

Cardiac arrest can occur due to structural cardiovascular issues, congenital anomalies, and electrical disorders within the heart. Many young athletes do not know they have these heart issues until it is too late. However, there are ways to ensure they are diagnosed before facing something as serious as cardiac arrest. Performing preventive EKGs or electrocardiogram tests during high school or college years could potentially save lives among athletes.

“We’ve been on the forefront of using EKGs (electrocardiogram heart tests) for screening for many years,” Jon Drezner, University of Washington’s team physician, told the news source. “We implemented that at UW [University of Washington] universally in 2010 in our freshman athletes. Daniel was a freshman in 2006.”

“You don’t know, looking back, if anything would have shown up if we had conducted an EKG all the way back then. But I certainly ask myself that question. Knowing that we’ve done it with every athlete since 2010, it does make you think.”

Keeping your heart healthy with diet

One of the key ways to stay heart healthy is by following a balanced, nutritious diet. The foods you consume can either help you or hurt you. For example, red meats including barbecued and fried meats are associated with higher risks of heart disease because of their high content of saturated fat and cholesterol. Limiting red meat or replacing it with plant-based alternatives can greatly improve your heart health.

Eating plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables as well as lean poultry and beans as your source of protein can also boost your heart health for years to come. You can ensure to have more fruits and vegetables at home by purchasing canned and frozen produce and by planning meals ahead of time.

Here is a guideline for structuring your plate during mealtimes.


Keeping your heart healthy with exercise

Regular exercise and physical activity can positively impact your heart health and even reduce your risk of a heart attack. Try these different types of exercise to get started.

  • Aerobic exercise. First and foremost, aerobic exercise such as jogging, dancing or biking can strengthen your heart tremendously. You can even try jump roping with your kids to get your heart rate up. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. 
  • Yoga. The controlled breathing and meditation in yoga can help your heart by reducing stress, boosting blood pressure and lowering anxiety. Yoga can reduce your heart rate as well as inflammation while improving circulation.
  • Walking. Scientists have found that walking regularly multiple times per week can lower your risk of heart disease. So, put on those walking shoes and take some steps in your neighborhood!

Keeping your heart healthy with preventive maintenance

One of the most important steps you can take to ensure your heart is truly healthy is to know your risks. See your doctor every year for a physical exam. If you are an athlete, you may want to speak with a cardiologist and undergo an EKG as a preventive measure. Be aware of symptoms like being short of breath or a racing heart.


Find a doctor

Whether you are in need of  an annual physical exam or  have concerns about your heart, our program provides you with options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms and provide instruction and follow-up as needed. If you need to find a cardiologist or primary care doctor, you can use our provider directory.

Talk to your doctor and make sure you’re up-to-date with recommended diagnostics. During the coronavirus pandemic, find out what we’re doing to keep you safe when you visit.

Related resources

High blood pressure medicine and FDA recalls

Lowering your blood pressure – beyond diet and exercise

Heart disease and stroke prevention: It starts with knowing the risks

What do heart patients need to know about COVID-19 now?

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

About the Author

Our philosophy for well being is looking at the holistic human experience. As such, the Swedish Wellness & Lifestyle Team is committed to shining a light on health-related topics that help you live your healthiest life. From nutrition to mindfulness to annual screenings, our team offers clinically-backed advice and tips to help you and your loved ones live life to the fullest.

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