Your Heart’s Desire: Know Your Risk Factors
It’s no secret that women today are taking on and juggling more than previous generations. Between career, commuting and family, self-care continues to lie at the bottom of the priority list.
February is American Heart Month. For years, heart disease has remained the leading cause of death for women in this country. According to a report from the American Heart Association, nearly five times as many women will die from heart attacks this year than will die from breast cancer.
Though a family history of heart disease increases your risk, many women without a family history also have heart attacks or heart problems. If you are aware of the risks, heart disease and stroke are, for the most part, preventable.
Here’s what you can do:
Know your risk. Other than following the advice of your health care providers, especially if you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, there are more preventative measures you can take. Ask your parents and siblings if they have been diagnosed with any diseases that effect heart health. The Siteman Cancer Center has a quick and useful tool for estimating risk.
Get moving. Being physically inactive is a major risk factor. For healthy women, the American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of cardio at least five days per week. Seem daunting? Breaking it up in to 10 or 15 minute increments is just as effective and often more doable. As always, consult your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen if you have health issues.
Eat right. Five servings of fruits and veggies per day is recommended. If you can substitute whole grains when possible, buy low-fat dairy and eat nuts and fish high in omega-3s, even better. A good tip: do most of your shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store and less in the interior, where the processed foods are stored. If your go-to fish dish is getting boring, U.S. News has a great list of fish that are rich in omega-3s and sustainably-sourced.
Don’t smoke. If you needed another reason to quit smoking, this is it: smokers have more than twice the risk of a heart attack as nonsmokers. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, just one year after quitting, the excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of someone who continues to smoke. Also, exposure to secondhand smoke can increase your risk of a heart attack and other forms of heart disease.
Schedule your annual check-up. Don’t let years go by in between physical exams. Just because you feel OK or are too young to schedule an annual mammogram doesn’t mean you don’t need preventive care. Keep an eye on your blood pressure, have an annual cholesterol screening and control your weight.
Karen Morse is a leading Wellness Scientist who develops personalized wellness plans for women and writes a weekly blog, The Wellness Scientist, imparting cutting-edge solutions for healthy living.