Are You Heart Healthy?

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Lifestyle Changes Can Prevent the #1 Cause of Death in American Women

By Dr. Keith Holmes, Ochsner Medical Center

    It is a well known fact that women tend to put their families, friends and careers first, leaving little time to truly take care of themselves.  So, for any of you women reading this, thinking this sounds like you, now is the time for the wake-up call.  Leading a healthy lifestyle is the key to preventing heart disease – the leading cause of death of American women. 

    Many people consider or think of heart disease as something that primarily affects men, yet statistically, more women die from heart related incidents than men. Heart disease kills nearly six times as many women as breast cancer.

    The statistics are frightening, but what every woman should know is that heart disease is preventable.  Women can significantly reduce their risk of heart disease if they have the information they need, know the questions to ask their health providers and receive the support to make heart-smart changes in their lives.

    The first step in preventing heart disease is to know your risk.  Find out if anyone in your family has had heart disease before the age of 50.  If they have, then you are at an increased chance for developing heart disease. The risk factors for heart disease are mostly the same for men and women.  They include high cholesterol and blood pressure, smoking, not exercising, obesity, stress and a family history of heart disease and stroke.

    Understanding the symptoms of heart disease – and how they differ in women and men – is also extremely important.  “The so-called ‘classic’ symptoms, which occur more often in men, are pressure and squeezing pain in the center of the chest, lightheadedness, fainting and shortness of breath.  Symptoms in women traditionally include feelings of indigestion or backache, dizziness, fatigue and numbness.

    Following the guidelines below will help keep you heart healthy and decrease your risk of heart disease:

1.         Exercise.  Not only is it great for managing your weight, boosting your energy level, and managing stress, it’s also excellent for your heart.  The American Heart Association recommends that women get about 30 minutes of exercise a day on most days.  Jogging with a friend, doing a yoga DVD at home, or even a game of tag with the kids can boost your activity level. Some women prefer taking short brisk walks, and others prefer resistance exercises, bowling or dancing.  Above all, remember that a little bit of exercise is better than no exercise at all.

2.         Don’t smoke and if you do, quit. Not only is smoking  unattractive, it can put you at risk for heart disease, stroke and several types of cancer.  Smoking remains the most preventable cause of death in the U.S.

3.         Know the numbers that impact your heart. Knowing your cholesterol level, blood pressure, BMI and waist circumference are just a few of the numbers you need to know and understand what they mean in relation to your heart health.  Be sure to talk to your doctor to see how your current numbers measure up.

4.         If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.  Keep in mind that for women, moderate drinking is no more than one drink per day.

5.         Watch what you eat.  Choose foods low in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars.  Eat plenty and a variety of fruits or vegetables and opt for lean meat, fish or skinless chicken. It is also important to make sure you are getting enough calcium and fiber-rich, whole grains.

    For additional information on women and heart health, visit

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