Women and Heart Disease
is the number one killer of American Women. Over 400,000 women die annually from CVD, or cardiovascular disease. 61,000 of those die from an actual heart attack. There are over 42 million women who are afflicted with some form of heart disease. This includes over 7.5 million women who have angina and over 3 million who have had a heart attack. Surprisingly more women die annually than men from cardiovascular disease.
Risk Factors: There are several risk factors that will make a woman more likely to develop heart disease. Many of these factors are lifestyle related and therefore can be controlled. Cigarette Smoking: Smoking doubles your risk of heart disease. Quitting is one of the most important decisions you can make for your health. It isn’t easy and you will most likely experience withdrawal symptoms that often make people begin smoking again. There are many programs and treatments available. But if you persevere you can stop smoking for good. Speak to your health care provider about the many ways that you can get help for this addiction. Ask for support from family and friends to encourage you along the way. Other helpful steps include getting rid of anything smoking related such as cigarette packs, ashtrays and lighters. Stay away from smoking environments such as casinos that allow smoking or anywhere you are exposed to people smoking. Substitute smoking with chewing gum or hard candies until you can get over the need for the oral sensation of a cigarette. Practice mediation and relaxation methods and exercise daily to lower stress. Give yourself credit for each day you don’t smoke. All of these techniques can help you to quit smoking for good.
Lower Cholesterol Levels: If your cholesterol level is too high it will result in “atherosclerosis” or a hardening of plaque in the arteries. If there is too much blockage it could result in a heart attack. There are two types of cholesterol. One is considered the bad cholesterol and is known as “LDL”. The other is “HDL” and is considered the good type of cholesterol. It is the LDL that creates arterial plaque while HDL clears the blood of cholesterol. An LDL over 160 is considered high and puts you at risk for heart disease. See your doctor to check your cholesterol levels and make sure you are not in the risk category.
Age Factors: As we age we are more susceptible to heart disease. Statistics suggest that over 82% of those who die from heart disease are 65 or older. It is speculated that serum cholesterol levels decline with age and this increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Also there is a loss of elasticity in the arteries that naturally occurs with age. Being 55 or older increases the risk as the body changes due to menopausal factors.
Family History: Genetic factors come into play as well. A family history of heart disease increases risk. Researchers have found a potential genetic link to hypertension which can lead to cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure levels: High blood pressure is a serious health condition and can lead to heart disease, heart attacks and heart failure. If it continues the arterial walls will begin to thicken in response and cause arterial plaque. A normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 while a high blood pressure is greater than 140/90. It is important to know and understand these risk factors. If you have any of them you can find ways to reduce your risk with a variety of preventative strategies.
Prevention: There are many things you can do to help protect your heart and prevent heart disease. A combination approach to diet, nutrition and lifestyle are all important factors. Food Choices: The popular trend of low fat began about twenty years ago. Unfortunately the manufacturers removed the fats from foods but added more sugars and carbohydrates to make it taste appealing. Low fat foods are a dietary trap because it is fat that creates a feeling of fullness. You will end up eating more because of the lack of fat. This may account in part for the upsurge in obesity in the last two decades. A healthy dietary choice would be the Mediterranean style diet. This diet is based on studies conducted on the island of Crete where the inhabitants had the lowest rate of heart disease for anywhere in the world. The people were habitual smokers and had other risk factors as well, yet virtually no heart disease. Studies were conducted on what they were eating which created such superior heart health. The Mediterranean diet is high in “good fats”, such as olive oil. Other simple foods comprise the core of the diet and include fresh fish, whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables. Alcohol is consumed in moderation. There is very little meat and dairy that is consumed in this diet. Researchers have concluded it is the combination of these foods that is a powerful defense against heart disease. Olive oil and whole grains lower cholesterol. Omega-3 fatty acids from seafood are anti- inflammatory and lower blood pressure and triglyceride levels. The Mediterranean diet is a very simple and wholesome way of eating that you can easily incorporate into your lifestyle.
Understanding Portions: As a culture we tend to overeat and consume portions that are entirely too large. For example, the recommended 5-10 daily servings of fruits and vegetables aren’t really as much as it sounds. Since a serving is only ½ a cup you can see that it is possible to eat your daily requirements. Portion size for meat is only 3 ounces which is equivalent in size to a deck of cards, so you can see how small a serving really is.
Exercise: Exercise is so very important to your health. After the age of 45, daily exercise is vital to maintaining a healthy weight. Additional benefits of exercise include reduced stress levels, lower cholesterol, protection against diabetes and improved sleep. Realistically, if you can exercise 30 minutes daily, five days a week you are creating a positive change in your world. With our busy lives women often make sacrifices over their health. But it is important for you to make time for yourself because your health is important to you and the ones who love you.
Exercise Tips: Find ways to motivate yourself to be consistent in your exercise routine. Create both short and long term goals. Find things that you enjoy doing. Perhaps you like walking, swimming, tennis or hiking as opposed to joining a gym. Stick to what you like so that you will continue to exercise and not get frustrated. Small changes such as a 15 minute walk after dinner, using the stairs instead of the elevator and walking to local shops can all add up to a serious boost to your overall health. Make sure to stay well hydrated when exercising with plenty of fresh clean water.
Buddy System: Find a friend or colleague to be your workout partner. This is very helpful to many women who like the support structure this provides. You can motivate and encourage one another to stick to the program and reach your goals. Heart health is a very important concern for women to take seriously. By making positive changes in your lifestyle you can greatly reduce the risk of heart disease. Remember whenever beginning any dietary or lifestyle changes, always consult with a medical professional, particularly if you are taking prescription drugs or suffer from any disease or ailment.
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By Tina C. Loren
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