February is American Heart Month and, unfortunately I don’t think most women realize that heart disease – not breast cancer – is the leading killer for women. In fact, every minute in the United States a woman dies from heart disease, stroke, or other cardiovascular disease (CVD). More than one in three women is living with CVD and nearly 72% of women age 60 – 79 have CVD. And strokes are the leading cause of long-term disability for Americans.
Here’s the amazing fact – heart disease is completely preventable or controllable! It’s about proper nutrition, exercise and managing existing medical conditions. The Centers For Disease Control (CDC) recommends these easy tips for preventing heart disease:
- Eat a healthy diet. Choosing healthful meal and snack options can help you avoid heart disease and its complications. Be sure to eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables—adults should have at least 5 servings each day. Eating foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol and high in fiber can help prevent high cholesterol. Limiting salt or sodium in your diet also can lower your blood pressure.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk for heart disease. To determine whether your weight is in a healthy range, doctors often calculate a number called the body mass index (BMI). Doctors sometimes also use waist and hip measurements to measure a person’s body fat..
- Exercise regularly. Physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower cholesterol and blood pressure. The Surgeon General recommends that adults should engage in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
- Monitor your blood pressure. High blood pressure often has no symptoms, so be sure to have it checked on a regular basis. You can check your blood pressure at home, at a pharmacy, or at a doctor’s office.
- Don’t smoke. Cigarette smoking greatly increases your risk for heart disease. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quit as soon as possible. Your doctor can suggest ways to help you quit.
- Limit alcohol use. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can increase your blood pressure. Men should stick to no more than two drinks per day, and women to no more than one.
- Have your cholesterol checked. Your health care provider should test your cholesterol levels at least once every 5 years. Talk with your doctor about this simple blood test.
- Manage your diabetes. If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar levels closely, and talk with your doctor about treatment options.
- Take your medicine. If you’re taking medication to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes, follow your doctor’s instructions carefully. Always ask questions if you don’t understand something.
Many women – especially busy moms – will overlook the subtle signs that they might be having a heart attack. It’s not always a shooting pain down your right arm. You could also experience pain in your jaw, neck or back. You might also just feel light-headed or weak. It’s easy for anyone to ignore these signs but don’t – every second counts if you’re having a heart attack or stroke.
A great site for more resources is Million Hearts, a nationwide initiative whose goal is to prevent a million heart attacks and strokes by 2017.