According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one cause of death in the world, and the leading cause of death in the U.S., killing over 366,800 Americans a year (about one every 43 seconds). It’s the number one killer of women in the U.S., taking more lives than all forms of cancer combined. Heart issues in women can be more subtle. That’s dangerous, because women often misread the trouble signs while having an actual heart attack for things like acid reflux or flu. In fact, 64 percent of women who die from coronary heart disease (a narrowing of the arteries or blood vessels that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart) had no previous symptoms. And heart disease is also the number one killer of men. (It doesn’t discriminate.)
Talk to your doctor about your own risk factors and family history. Follow these tips for a healthy ticker:
- Got a family history of heart disease? Start cholesterol screenings at age 20 or sooner. Ask your doctor about your risk factors before giving you a personal goal number. If you’ve got high cholesterol, learn how to make changes through diet and exercise first. Explore different treatments, too. (You may be able to prevent the need for prescription medication.)
- Exercise, eat healthy, and don’t smoke. You can reduce your risk for heart disease up to 80 percent with healthy diet changes, portion control, cardio workouts, and not smoking. Choose chicken and fish. Go for low-fat dairy or fortified soy, fresh veggies, and whole grains. Reduce salt and sugar. Exercise five times per week for 30 minutes each day. You’ll get the best benefits when it comes to blood pressure, cholesterol, energy, and weight.
- Just chill. Avoid or deal with daily stress better through exercise, deep breathing, meditation, gentle stretching, yoga, or talking to a friend. Pets are also very calming. Lose “crutch” behaviors like drinking to excess, smoking, or overeating — and replace them with healthier choices!
- Sleep six to eight hours per night. Getting too little or too much sleep has been linked to slowing down metabolism (impacting the body’s ability to get rid of fat), and high blood pressure. Snooze to lose!
- Say ‘hi’ to your BMI (Body Mass Index). Your waist size and body fat help to predict a number of health issues, from breathing problems, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes, to heart disease and high blood pressure. The risk rises for women with a waist size over 35 inches; for men, the danger zone is more than 40 inches. Bring that belt size down a few notches with 150 minutes of regular exercise weekly and eating right! Learn your BMI by visiting https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm. (Also talk to your doctor.)
Love your heart, and it’ll love you back!
By Lisa Miceli Feliciano