MISSISSIPPI (WDAM) - Heart disease deaths have decreased in Mississippi, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health (MSDH).
According to MSDH, the state has seen a 19.6 percent decrease in heart disease deaths from 2004-2013. Mississippi women had a 22.5 percent decrease in heart disease deaths, and men saw a 17.8 percent decrease. African-American women saw the biggest drop, with heart disease death down 25 percent.
"Heart disease is the number one cause of death in Mississippi, in Forrest County and in Lamar County," said Kim Rutland, manager at the Merit Health Wellness Center. "Any decrease in that death is good."
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, with nearly 610,000 Americans dying from heart disease every year. The CDC said that means heart disease accounts for 1 in every 4 deaths.
Dr. Thomas Dobbs, Mississippi's state epidemiologist, said the decrease is good, but the state still has a lot to do to improve the population's overall health.
"Even though we've made great strides, we're still a leader in mortality, not just for heart disease, but all other related issues," Dobbs said.
The CDC lists high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking as key risk factors for heart disease, and said almost half of all Americans, 49 percent, have at least one of those risk factors. Dobbs said he sees those health problems, and other risk factors like diabetes, obesity, poor diet, physical inactivity and excessive alcohol use, frequently in Mississippi.
"We're close to the bottom in physical inactivity," Dobbs said. "We are 48th in the country for obesity. Forty-eighth in a bad way for obesity. We know that the things that drive heart disease, although we've made improvements, those things are still out there."
Dobbs and Rutland said increasing exercise is an important and easy way to combat risk factors and continue to drive down death rates.
"Over a third of people in Mississippi don't get any exercise in a month's time," Dobbs said. "You know, any leisure exercise, and that's really an astounding number. And a little bit goes a long way."
They suggest parking farther away from stores when running errands, taking the stairs instead of an elevator and walking instead of driving when possible as easy lifestyle changes to increase daily exercise.
"It doesn't have to be that 'I'm going to be a marathoner,'" Rutland said. "It's that 'I'm going to go out and walk 10-15 minutes everyday.' Staring to exercise early is the best choice you can make. Any cause of death, exercise will help. Cancer, stroke and heart disease."
Dobbs said MSDH recommends taking a 30-minute walk five days a week.
Diet is another place Rutland said Mississippians can decrease their risk for heart disease.
"Less fast food, french fries and fried food," she said."High blood pressure is also is also a major risk factor for heart disease. Keeping your blood pressure under control, decreasing salt intake can also decrease your risk of a heart-related incident."
Dobbs suggested Mississippians over 40 have their blood pressure checked at least once a year.