While the number of heart attacks are decreasing for men they are on the rise for women. In fact, cancer, lung disease, and even accidents are the cause of fewer deaths. The number one cause of death for women is cardiovascular disease. February is Heart Health Awareness Month and a perfect time to focus on women.
Awareness of the issues has grown to 54 percent from 30 percent attributed to the efforts of the American Heart Association in educating the public. When this death rate is going down for men, the rate for women ages 35 to 55 is increasing and may be due to the prevalence of obesity today indicating more awareness is needed.
Women usually develop the disease about 10 years later in life than men. The seriousness and rate of occurrence rises significantly after menopause. Menopause affects the risk factor since estrogen contributes to heart health.
Smoking and diabetes are less of a risk in men than in women. Other factors that increase the likelihood of developing the disease include: a sedentary life style, high LDL cholesterol, low HDL cholesterol, and elevated triglycerides. Lupus or other autoimmune diseases increase the risk as well.
If that is not enough, women who experienced hypertension, gestational diabetes, or pre-eclampsia when they were pregnant could be at risk as they age. Finally, if there is a close relative who had the disease at a fairly young age then the risk increases.
The good news is that much can be done to avoid a the disease with lifestyle changes. Some changes may be easy and others more challenging, but with a little focused attention these changes can improve the heart health of women, and of course, men.
Food is a big deal! Limiting saturated fat and trans fat in foods affects the amount of LDL cholesterol in the blood. Keeping LDL cholesterol low is good for the heart and can be managed. Eating less of foods like butter that remain solid at room temperature, as well as lean meat contribute to good health.
Another factor to consider is sodium which can lead to high blood pressure by holding on to fluid. High blood pressure also raises the risk of stroke and kidney disease. A last note on the food front, women who focus on heart health concern themselves with keeping their intake of sugar low.
The heart is a muscle and as such needs to be worked to stay healthy. That said, a body that moves will have a healthy heart.
The recommended minimum amount of exercise is 30 minutes a day for 5 days a week. Of that time there needs to be 10 minutes of continuous aerobic activity with additional benefits for longer periods of time. Staying active with regular exercise not only keeps the heart in condition, it also contributes to a healthy weight.
An interesting fact is that mornings are when heart attacks are more likely to happen. This is because cortisol, the stress hormone, reaches its highest level in the morning. Reducing stress by planning what is controllable can help some things go smoothly and playing soft music can have a relaxing affect. Finally getting enough sleep lowers the levels of cortisol in the system.
Lifestyle changes can be taken a step at a time. Women who take the time to focus on fixing and eating foods that nourish their body, moving their body, and allowing their body to relax contribute to their heart health.
By Ailey Hines
The Seattle Times
Photo by: Yu-Cheng Hsiao – Flickr License