I used to think that Heart Disease was a “man’s disease”. Perhaps it’s because the only people I had ever heard about having heart problems were men. My uncle, both of my grandfathers, friends, friends of my family… had either heart attacks, bypass surgeries or some other equally as scary heart trauma. Perhaps it’s because you always hear women telling their husbands – “slow down or you’re going to have a heart attack” or telling their kids “don’t show your Dad, he’ll have a heart attack”. Usually this is said in jest, but it stems from a legitimate history of health problems in men.
This is obviously a valid issue for men, however I’ve recently learned that it is even more of a concern for women. According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, 6.5 million women have some form of Coronary Heart Disease. It is the leading cause of death in women in North America. Here are some additional shocking statistics with regards to women’s heart health:
- 42% of women who have heart attacks die within one year! Compared to 24% of men.
- Under age 50, women’s heart attacks are twice as likely as men’s to be fatal.
- Heart attacks kill 6 timesas many women as breast cancer.
So who is “at risk”?
- 71% of women experience early warning signs of a heart attack with sudden onset of extreme weakness that feels like the fluand often with no chest pain at all.
- Nearly 2/3 of the deaths from heart attacks in women occur among those who have no history of chest pain.
- Women who smokerisk having a heart attack 19 years earlier than non-smokers.
- Diabetesdoubles their risk for women to have a heart attack.
The good news is that women’s hearts respond better than men’s to healthy lifestyle changes. Although coronary heart disease (CHD) is the leading cause of death in women, it is also the MOST preventable. So let’s start changing these statistics! Here’s how:
What can you do to prevent CHD?
- Don’t smoke or use tobacco.
- Exercise for about 30 minutes on most days of the week.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. (See below)
- Maintain a healthy weight.
- Get enough quality sleepof 7 – 9 hours per night.
- Manage your stress.
- Get regular health screenings including checking your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and diabetes screening.
Key Nutrition Tips Are:
- Avoid too much salt and sugar in your diet.
- Limit or avoid saturated fat (red meat, full-fat dairy, palm oil)
- Cut out trans-fat (deep-fried foods, packaged snack foods, margarine, bakery products). If the nutrition label has the term “partially hydrogenated” or “hydrogenated”, it means that product contains trans-fat.
- Add more fruits and vegetables to your diet – GOAL: 5 – 10 servings/day
- Eat salmon and tuna – two or more servings a week.
- Limit your alcohol to one drink per day.
If this is the leading killer of women andwe can prevent it, then let’s take action to change the statistics. I think most of us know that we should follow items in the list for prevention, but how many of these do we actually do? I know that I try, but can’t truthfully say I meet all of the checks on the list. Maybe it’s time to take a real look at the list and see how we measure up. I’m not a doctor, but I think any positive changes we make to get closer to having all of these things on the list checked off will not only prevent CHD but will also prevent particular cancers, other diseases and contribute a healthier and happier you. If you are so far away from doing everything on this list, then take baby steps. Start with one. Pick one that is realistic for you to tackle now. Set a goal for yourself – to do it by a certain date. Ask for help – from friends, family, your kids, your doctor – whoever you think can help you make this positive change.