How to avoid heart diseases?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Know anyone over 40 who’s a smoker, overweight and hasn’t exercised in years? She doesn’t think heart disease is a risk because, after all she’s a woman and there’s no heart disease in her family. At least not that she knows. But based on these characteristics she has a 9.4% greater chance of developing heart disease than a lean, non-smoking woman her age, regardless of family history.

According to the American Heart Association, 55% of white women, 38% of black women and 34% of Hispanic women know that heart disease is their biggest risk. Most think their greatest risk is breast cancer. But surely it’s ok to be overweight as long as we exercise, right? No, actually, both weight and exercise are independent and serious predictors of risk. Dr. Frank Hu of Harvard School of Public Health found that high levels of exercise did not eliminate the risk of heart disease associated with obesity. And leanness did not counteract heart disease risk associated with inactivity.

Even women who were of normal weight were 1.5 times more likely to have heart disease then were women of normal weight who exercised regularly. So how do we know if we have heart disease? Well, unfortunately, for most women the first sign occurs when they have a heart attack.

And symptoms for women are somewhat different than men. In studies involving women, chest pain may or may not be present. Other common symptoms are anxiety, fatigue, shortness of breath, depression, indigestion, neck and jaw pain and sleep disturbances. As you can probably imagine, it’s easy to miss the diagnosis if indigestion and anxiety are the main symptoms. And to compound the problem, many health care providers think chest pain must be present to consider an MI. Well, we know that’s just wrong.

So what should we do?

1. The first order of business is to be aware that heart disease is a risk for women. In fact, more women die of heart disease then do men.

2. Second, have your blood pressure checked. Many women have not been screened in years. They’re too busy taking care of everyone else. You can’t continue to care for others if you’re sick or worse.

3. Third, stop smoking. Period.

4. Fourth, lose weight if you need to. Watch your intake, cut out excess fat and sugar. Increase fruits and vegetables and lean meats. Think of sugary snacks as poison, not a fun food that you really deserve.

5. Fifth, start moving. Walk, run or swim. Do something besides sit. Get your heart rate up. Take the dog for a walk. He’s at risk too.

6. Finally, access the American Heart Associations website, “Go Red for Women” for facts and information about protecting yourself. We all need to be empowered with knowledge and skills to reduce the incidence of heart disease. Do it for your family and yourself.


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