Easy Ways Women Can Put Their Heart First in February
Heart disease claims more women's lives than cancer. In fact, it's the No. 1 killer of women in the U.S.
"This isn’t only an older woman’s problem but even young women in 30s and 40s are at significant risk," said Indianapolis cardiologist Angela G. Brittsan, MD, PhD, of Franciscan Physician Network Indiana Heart Physicians. "My advice to women is to get active, get healthy and know your numbers. Please make your health a priority."
What you do now for your heart will repay you in heart health benefits as you age.
A woman's risk for heart disease and heart attack increases with the number of risk factors you have and how severe they are. Some risk factors are more dangerous than others.
What Are a Woman's Risk Factors for Heart Disease?
The risk factors for heart disease include:
- High blood cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Diabetes and prediabetes
- Being overweight or obese
- Lack of physical exercise
- Stress and depression
- Family history of heart disease
- Preeclampsia, a condition that develops during pregnancy
How Can I Reduce My Risk of Heart Disease?
Making even small changes can lead to big benefits in your heart health. Start with these five steps to reduce your risk for heart disease:
- Quit smoking. There are more aids than ever to help you, starting with our smoking cessation events.
- Ask your healthcare provider to review reachable heart-healthy goals with you.
- Try to increase your physical activity each day. Even walking can make a big difference.
- Adjust your diet and cooking styles to include non-processed meals and fresh fruits and vegetables whenever possible. Stay away from products high in sugar like soda.
- De-stress whenever you can. Even grabbing a minute for yourself can go a long way.
Certain screening tests can help determine if you are at risk for heart disease and provide a baseline for your heart health. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends these screening tests beginning at age 20:
Blood pressure: Once every two years; if your blood pressure is higher than 120/80, you may need to have it checked more often. Women age 65 and older have a greater risk for high blood pressure than men. Learn more about the new blood pressure guidelines.
Fasting lipoprotein profile: Every four to six years to evaluate total blood cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides. Older women are at greater risk than men for high triglycerides.
- Body weight: Your healthcare provider may start recording your waist circumference and your body mass index, or BMI (a measure of body fat based on your height and weight)
At age 45, you should also begin having your blood sugar level measured every three years. This screening test shows when your blood glucose levels are high, which raises your risk for developing diabetes - a risk factor for heart disease.
The AHA also recommends that you and your healthcare provider review your physical activity levels, habits and diet to evaluate your heart health.
Not sure where to start? Ask your healthcare provider about the heart health screenings that make sense for you and how often you should be screened, given your age, your health and family history.