February 18, 2023
The Importance of Millennial Heart Health According to Dr. Ali Rahimi
Written by Melissa Schenkman, MPH, MSJ
Introducing Dr. Ali Rahimi, CEO of ALYKA Health
Every millennial knows what it is like to work behind the scenes. At 25-42 years old, we are often the ones who are making things happen at our companies, getting the work produced and completed for the clients and customers we serve, but our vital role often can go unrecognized or unrewarded.
Our hearts are the same. While an invaluable organ that keeps us living and breathing every moment of every day, we often do not recognize its importance and take care of it the way we should.
The ALYKA Health app can help us change that.
I talked with visionary, cardiologist, and CEO and Founder of ALYKA Health, Ali Rahimi, MD, MPH, to learn about how millennials present a missed opportunity for heart disease prevention in our public health system. He shares how his company is making it easier for us to truly make strides every day in improving our heart health and preventing heart disease, keeping us going strong for the many miles in life we would like to continue to travel and enjoy.
Ali, what drove you to pursue a career in cardiology from the start?
It started with my belief in public health and believing in taking care of the whole population. If you think about public health, it’s where the big foundations of several different disciplines converge, all with impacts on our health care. One is epidemiology, where you develop an understanding of prevalence and incidence of disease, and a respect for statistics.
The heart is a beautiful organ that is pumping 100,000 times a day. I loved learning about cardiac physiology, but also was interested in combining care for the heart with my public health knowledge. Recognizing that one in two adults are at risk of heart disease, I would think about how the environment plays a role in our health because most of the risk factors for heart disease–high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and high blood glucose are modifiable. You can do something about it.
I thought: How do you create the best programs that you can to innovate and make improvements in the lives of not only 10 to 20 people a day, but rather millions?
Ali Rahimi, MD, MPH, founded ALYKA Health four years ago, building an app with his team to improve the public’s health.
Addressing Millennial Heart Health
As a practicing cardiologist and a public health professional who has performed research looking at health outcomes and quality care, tell me about some of the ways in which you have seen patient care go awry when it comes to heart health for people ages 25-42?
I think the biggest area, whether you’re 20 years old or 60 years old, is in education, awareness, and understanding the facts.
Did you know that one in two adults has high blood pressure? Or, that high blood pressure, especially if you’ve got a family history or are African American, can start as early as your 20s? It’s when you understand facts like that, that you gain an appreciation for ‘Wow, I need to do something.’
Think about women’s health and maternal health, the dangers of high blood pressure in pregnancy and how many births and pregnancies are complicated because of uncontrolled blood pressure. Why? It’s because of what we’re dealing with–the epidemic of being overweight and obese. We are finding more young adults who are developing high blood pressure. Therefore, when they want to start a family, they’re encountering those problems.
The same thing goes for diabetes. There’s 33 million people with diabetes, but there’s 110 million people with pre-diabetes. So, one in three adults essentially is at risk of having diabetes, but eight out of nine, don’t know they are at risk.
So, this lack of insight and education is our biggest public health threat and where care for heart health in millennial-aged patients can go wrong.
Why do you feel there is a missed opportunity for heart disease prevention in today’s millennial population? In what ways is our current healthcare system missing the mark?
The lack of awareness about health conditions is compounded by the inability of our current healthcare system to effectively engage individuals and talk to them where it matters, in their language and at their level of education.
You don’t do that by going into this cold, eight-by-six-foot room with someone wearing a white coat that you’ve never met before, that you don’t trust. If you do, your blood pressure’s going to go up.
How do we improve awareness through education and then engage people through the right vehicle?
That is where the opportunity is for us to get it right. At the end of the day, I think no one wakes up saying, ‘I want to miss my mammogram, get cancer, or have a heart attack.’ People want to do the right thing. We just have to help them do it.
How ALYKA Health Is Addressing Heart Health Awareness with Millennials
How does ALYKA Health work to fill this gap? What led to its creation?
After almost 25 years in health care, including roles as the Director of Cardiovascular Quality and Director of Performance Improvement, helping through Kaiser Permanente in Georgia at a population level, doing great work, I had this aha moment and saw the opportunity that we all could do better. After doing some research on how to integrate health data and meet the individual where they are at, four years ago my team and I began creating the ALYKA Health app.
At ALYKA Health, we help to make the interconnection between the heart and mind, strengthening them both to help you reduce your risk of heart disease by 50%. We know that oftentimes life gets in the way and that mental health is critical to be able to achieve any goal that you set for yourself.
So, through pulling your health data into our app, we provide a customized plan for helping you do the things you already know you need to do to reduce your risk of heart disease–improve your daily exercise, eat healthier, get better sleep, have less stress, and smoke and drink less. At the same time, we work to encourage your sense of confidence and overall well-being.
The idea is to increase your health resilience index – an insightful way to measure your knowledge and confidence in making improvements to your health and well-being on your own.
The ALYKA Health app says that it makes it possible to reduce a person’s heart disease risk by over 50% through increased physical fitness, reducing mental stress, lowering blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, improving weight management, and improving sleep quality.
Tell me about how using the ALYKA Health app can be beneficial for millennials overall, but especially in terms of improving their heart health and offering heart disease prevention?
Our focus is to help the masses. Too many people have heart disease or heart problems. Premature heart disease is real. People can have heart attacks as early as their 30s, and if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, you can have heart failure in your 30s. Also, uncontrolled stress creates a lot in the way of palpitations and chest pain phenomena that we see a lot of in females.
From a prevention standpoint, it starts with knowing your numbers. You have to know where you are in order to know where you want to go.
Have you ever checked your blood pressure? Do you know what your blood glucose is? Or do you know what your A1C is to know if you have pre-diabetes or not? Are you checking on your weight every now and then? What are your numbers?
You don’t get into your car and drive without looking at the gauges to know if you’ve got enough gas in the tank or tire pressure. You want to take care of your numbers. So, know your vital signs. There’s a reason they’re called vital signs. They’re vital! So, we offer an opportunity for them to know their numbers in the beginning. Knowing that together, we can help chart a journey towards wellness and reducing your risk of potential heart disease.
What are some features of the app that you think make ALYKA Health a leader in the health tech space and would be particularly helpful for our on-the-go millennial population, many who work more than one job making it difficult to fit in time to make their health a priority?
The app is very personable. It calls you by your first name and greets you with statements, such as ‘good morning,’ So, you feel like it’s talking with you. That’s my favorite part of the application along with how visually appealing it is. The user interface, the colors, the imagery, it’s all very positive, and it makes me want to read more. My other favorite part is how smart the application is with my data. That gives me confidence in achieving my health goals and making me feel that I can believe in what I’m seeing.
One of the app’s unique features is that it pulls in three layers of your health data: information from your electronic health record, from surveys asking you questions on the app, and from your devices, such as a blood pressure machine or a scale. We pull in your data in a very smart and precise way, making it dynamic and only pulling in what adds value.
We push education to you with content reminders, send congratulatory messages when we see you are reducing your heart disease risk factors and alerts if they are going up.
The logic behind it all is to bring you insights and education so you can make changes. That is something very different that no one else does, and that is why we are very excited about ALYKA Health’s potential to improve people’s health.
What role do you see millennials playing in changing heart disease’s impact on Generation Y and in decreasing its effects on their lives compared to those experienced by previous generations?
I think the greatest role that millennials can play, given their ability to be on different social media platforms and how smart they are with different applications, is to get the word out to raise awareness of the burden of the risk for heart disease in people.
Let’s break it down. One in two adults have high blood pressure; one in three adults have prediabetes, or have diabetes, yet the majority don’t know they have it.
Millennials can use their voices to help raise awareness, so that they can make those lifestyle changes that are modifiable in our 20s and 30s. This way by the time they are in their late 30s, they don’t have high blood pressure and prediabetes. Then, they can really enjoy a nice, healthy and happier life. I believe we want to create a movement, and the best folks to spur that movement along are the millennials