By: Margo Minissian, ACNP
The best gift a woman can give those she loves is a healthy heart. Many don’t realize that heart disease is the leading cause of death and disability among women in our country.
But the good news is, you can reduce risk factors substantially by making some simple lifestyle choices.
The first is, don’t smoke. If you do, quit. Doing that, alone, reduces your risk for heart disease by 25 to 30 percent.
Naturally, what you eat also is key. I highly recommend adopting the Mediterranean diet, which helps in maintaining a healthy weight and cholesterol levels, both important in reducing the risk of heart disease. The Mediterranean way of eating incorporates lots of fruits, vegetables, fish, legumes and whole grains. It also includes replacing saturated fats, like butter, with heart healthy olive oil. For those who don’t have problems with alcohol, it’s beneficial to have a glass of wine with a meal. More than two glasses and you’re putting yourself at risk, though.
As for red meat, have a steak on your birthday and anniversary…eliminating red meat can help prevent cancer as well as heart disease.
Busy women often find themselves grabbing unhealthy foods on the run. Among the tricks I use to prevent this, is to pack myself a lunch at the same time that I pack my kids’. I’ll also take Sunday afternoon to prepare two or three portion-controlled meals and plan our dinner menu for the week.
Exercise, as you know, is a must. But you don’t need to “feel the burn” in one of those iron woman Cross-Fit or spinning classes. Breaking a light sweat will do. You need only 30 minutes of physical activity a day and it doesn’t need to be done all at once. Take the stairs rather than the elevator and park further from your destination and walk. It adds up. Exercising for a healthy heart is not the same as the exercise required to lose weight.
Make sure too to have your primary care physician assess your risk factors. For the average woman this entails having your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and weight checked, as well as, getting down a detailed family history. Women over the age of 60 should consider also having a blood test to measure C-reactive protein, which measures low levels of inflammation in the arteries.
And listen to your body. Women often have heart attacks without even realizing it. Their symptoms are different than the buckled-over, stabbing chest pain we see depicted by men on TV and in movies. Typically, women suffer excessive fatigue; nausea and a feeling of tightness around their chest. But you don’t want to wait for any of these. Prevention is essential. After all, you wouldn’t wait until you found a lump in your breast to have a mammogram.
Certain risk factors, like being over age 55 and family history, you have no control over. But the rest is up to you.