By Pamela Hammonds
The number one killer of women isn’t breast cancer or ovarian cancer or any form of cancer. In fact, this one disease kills more women than all other forms of cancer combined: heart disease.
Know your risks
Heart disease does not spare the young. It doesn’t discriminate based on race or socioeconomic background. But heart disease does have hereditary factors and can be attributed to lifestyle choices.
Your risk of having heart disease increases if you:
- maintain a sedentary lifestyle
- consume a diet high in carbohydrates
- smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke
- are obese
- drink too much alcohol
- have high levels of LDL cholesterol
- have low levels of HDL cholesterol
- have high blood pressure (i.e. hypertension)
- have diabetes (you are two to four times more likely to have heart disease or a stroke than an adult without diabetes)
- have a family history of heart disease
Like most diseases, early detection is key to preventing and treating heart disease in women. Get regular checkups and know your family history. Learn your healthy numbers—cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, weight—and be cognizant of any variations from year to year. If you change physicians or see multiple doctors, increases in blood pressure, LDL cholesterol or your weight may go unnoticed. It’s up to you to know what your healthy ranges are.
A recent study found that active middle-aged adults had lower levels of indicators of inflammation of the arteries compared to those who didn’t exercise. Less inflammation tends to lead to lower risks for heart disease. If you currently don’t exercise, you don’t have to sprint to your nearest gym. Aim for 30 minutes a day of moderate activity such as walking or dancing.
Be mindful of what you eat and plan healthy meals for you and your family. Choose foods low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars. Include foods that are nutrient-dense like colorful veggies and fruits, fiber-rich whole-grains, lean meats such as skinless chicken and fish rich in omega-3s. Choose dairy items that are fat-free, 1-percent fat or low-fat. These foods can give your heart the nutrients it needs as well as improve your cholesterol and blood pressure.
While it might seem as though women considered to be type-A or high-strung are at greater risk for heart disease, the truth is some women handle stress better than others—no matter what their personality type. If you’re often angry or hostile, stress hormones can be released in your blood, causing your heart rate and blood pressure to elevate. Find ways to blow off steam (kick-boxing, perhaps?) and aim for six to eight hours of sleep every night.
Love yourself enough to do whatever it takes to keep your heart healthy. Make heart disease the one statistic you refuse to be associated with.