It’s a special month here at the Heart Center – a time when our heart doctors encourage everyone in the community to take stock of their cardiac health.
First, a couple of statistics about cardiovascular disease and women.
Did you know heart disease is to blame in one out of every three female deaths? Or that mortality from heart disease is actually greater in women than men?
Lifestyle plays a huge role. Three of the biggest risk factors are smoking, obesity and lack of physical activity. Unfortunately, a majority of women struggle with their weight and don’t get nearly enough exercise.
Nationally, more than 60 percent of women fall into the overweight or obese category. The numbers are even worse for Alabama.
Just as troubling, 95 percent of women from 20-60 years old do not get two and a half hours of moderate aerobic activity per week– the minimum amount recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
But don’t fret.
There are things you can do starting today. To lower your risk of having a heart attack, you first need to learn to recognize heart disease symptoms and talk to a cardiology doctor. Call us at the Heart Center. Read these specific steps recommended by the American Heart Association and endorsed by the Heart Center.
Tips for Heart Health at Any Age
In Your 20s
- Learn your family’s history of heart disease, and tell your heart doctor and primary care physician about it. If a grandparent, parent, aunt or uncle died of heart problems, you face a higher risk of developing heart disease.
- Quit smoking. And try to avoid secondhand smoke, which has been shown to increase nonsmokers’ risk of heart disease by as much as 30 percent.
- Make informed birth control decisions. Some oral contraceptives can cause spikes in your blood pressure, which is bad for your heart. Talk to your doctor about your options.
- Avoid binge drinking. Heavy drinking can increase blood pressure, so think moderation – no more than one 4-ounce glass of wine or 12-ounce beer daily.
In Your 30s
- Manage that stress. Long-term stress is known to increase both heart rate and blood pressure, which can damage your artery walls. Try deep breathing exercises, and carve a few minutes out of your busy day for an activity you enjoy.
- Make some “me” time. Multiple studies have shown that if you can avoid the conditions most often associated with heart disease until you turn 50, your risk of developing cardiac troubles drops dramatically. So take time to eat healthy, exercise regularly and get a full night’s sleep.
- Make informed birth control decisions. See above.
In Your 40s
- Get active. Regular physical exercise (150 minutes of moderately intense or 75 minutes of vigorously intense aerobic activity per week) can improve your blood pressure and HDL “good” cholesterol, lower your odds of developing diabetes and strengthen your heart.
- Keep stress at arm’s length. Between kids and career, it’s tough to find time for yourself. But it’s critical to your health. Take up an activity that puts you at ease. Maybe it’s yoga or gardening — even a weekly massage.
- Get regular checkups. If you’ve never had your blood sugar level tested, you need to do so by age 45. And have your doctor keep close tabs on your weight, Body Mass Index, waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart health.
In Your 50s
- Be aware of changes in your body. As women age, hormone changes caused by menopause and other factors can weaken the body’s natural defenses against heart disease.
- Know your numbers. For optimum heart health, keep total cholesterol below 200, triglycerides under 150, blood pressure less than 120/80, Body Mass Index below 25 and waist circumference under 35 inches.
- Eat smart. Healthy foods can provide important nutrients to your heart while also improving cholesterol and blood pressure. Fill up on colorful fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish, lean meats, skinless chicken and fat-free or low-fat dairy.
- Work it out. If you haven’t been exercising, there’s no better time than the present. If you’re already active, mix up your workout routine to keep from getting bored. Whatever physical activity you choose, devote at least 30 minutes to it daily.
In Your 60s or Beyond
- Know your risk. Studies have shown that a woman’s risk of heart attack rises dramatically after menopause. But there is plenty you can do to mitigate it. Start by taking the American Heart Association’s online Go Red for Women Heart CheckUp, which will give you a customized action plan for living heart smart.
- Stay active. While the guidelines call for at least 150 minutes of moderately intense aerobic activity weekly, any type of movement is good. Even short, brisk walks of as little as 10 minutes daily can provide enough physical activity to keep your heart in shape.
February is the perfect time to take these tips to heart. You owe it to yourself, and your family, to keep that heart beating for years to come!
Dr. Patricia Gurczak is a cardiologist and Army veteran. She practices exclusively at Madison Hospital and the Heart Center in Madison. Madison Hospital offers non-invasive diagnostic procedures including echocardiogram, Holter monitoring, nuclear cardiac stress testing and cardiac CT in a newly-expanded imaging services area.