Saturday, February 2, 2013

Defend Yourself Against Heart Disease

Did you wear red on Friday, February 1st as the nation begins its focus on Heart Month? Did you just worry about looking cute or did you fully understand the need to act on the American Heart Association's sensible heart health suggestions that can help you win the battle against heart disease.

As women, we are prepared to struggle. We struggled to win the right to vote in 1920. We struggled to earn the right to equal pay for equal work in the 1960s. During the 1970s, under Title IX, a portion of the Education Amendments, women struggled to gain more equal access to education by banning sex discrimination in schools that receive federal support. Yes, women struggled to earn equality and the fact that heart disease now kills as many women as it does men-5000,000 a year- is not something that can be considered a triumph.

Women can defend themselves against heart disease, an equal opportunity killer. Here are a few suggestions:

Watch your weight and your waistline.
If you carry too much fat, especially around your middle, it can increase your risk of heart disease. Make small changes, such as cutting back on sugary "empty calories" and eating an extra vegetable or two each day to lose weight. It might motivate you to make additional healthy eating choices. Post the AMA's dietary recommendations on your refrigerator. You can join a supportive group such as Weight Watchers.

Give your heart a regular workout.
Your heart is a muscle that benefits from exercise in the same way your abdominals, biceps or quadriceps do. Try to follow federal exercise guidelines, which recommend getting 60 minutes of moderate-activity exercise on most days, to maintain a healthy hear and weight. If a full hour is impossible, try to do a few minutes of yoga in the morning and evening, and squeeze a 20 to 30 minute walk with weights into your day.

Kick the habit for your heart's sake.
If you smoke, your risk of developing heart disease is two to six times greater than a nonsmoker. Kicking the nicotine habit can dramatically cut back the risk to your heart, even during the first year, no matter what your age. It also has cosmetic benefits, i.e. a healthier glow, brightening your eyes and smile, slowing the development of wrinkles and giving your hair shine.

Watch out for high blood pressure.
Even slightly elevated blood pressure levels can double your risk for heart disease. If you have mild high blood pressure, you may be able to lower your blood pressure by eating a low salt diet and cutting back on alcohol, if you drink. Losing extra weight may reduce your blood pressure, too. Your doctor can prescribe medication to help reduce your blood pressure, if it is needed.

Find out if you have high blood cholesterol.
High blood cholesterol contributes to heart disease and you can develop it at any age. Begin having your blood cholesterol check at age 20 and have the test repeated at least every five years. Exercise, diet, and, if necessary, medication can help you manage your blood cholesterol levels and result in a big payoff for your heart's health.

Be aware of diabetes.
About 75 percent of women with diabetes die of some type of cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, many women don't realize they have diabetes before it begins taking a toll on their hearts. Keep your blood sugar as close to normal as possible by exercising, maintaining a healthy weight, and, if necessary, taking medication.

Manage your stress and your response to it.
Stress or an unhealthy response to stress may put you at greater risk for heart disease. Because stress can be motivated by family, friends, work or financial issues, try to identify your stress triggers and look for ways to reduce them. Women with high levels of work related stress or strain are more likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event.

If you are looking for more ways to improve your heart health, visit for heart-healthy lifestyle tips, recipes and health screening guidelines.

Source: WomensCare, Winter 2013

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