Heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing about one in five female deaths a year. In fact, more women are affected by heart disease than all forms of cancer combined. This includes breast cancer! While awareness around this important topic has increased over the years, only 54% of women recognize they may be at risk for heart disease. Now is the time to learn the facts, assess your risk factors, know the warning signs of a heart attack in women, and follow these 7 tips to change or improve your heart health.
Heart Health Risks in Women
According to the American Heart Association, 90% of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease at some point in their lives. Yet, here’s another interesting fact. 80% of cardiovascular diseases are preventable if you pay attention to your risk factors and move to make healthy lifestyle choices.
Some health conditions and lifestyle choices that can work against you and increase your chance for heart disease include:
- Obesity or being overweight
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Physical inactivity
- Poor diet
- Excessive alcohol use
- Age (over age 50 in women or over 45 in men)
Additional heart disease risk factors that are unique to women include going through menopause or being post-menopausal, having numerous ovarian cysts, and having high blood pressure or diabetes during pregnancy.
Warning Signs of Heart Attacks in Women
Heart disease doesn’t affect all women alike. Some may never even realize they are having heart disease symptoms. Unfortunately, the warning signs of a heart attack are also often more subtle in women than in men. That means you may not get that “elephant-on-the-chest” feeling that many men do to know you’re experiencing a heart attack. Some common heart attack symptoms in women include:
- Pain that spreads from the chest to your arm, neck, jaw, or upper back
- Pain or discomfort in the center of your chest (that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back)
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
You may experience these symptoms when you are resting or during regular daily activities. Some other symptoms women experience include:
- Pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen
- Cold sweats
- Unusual tiredness or fatigue
- Trouble sleeping
7 Tips to Improve Health Heart
Below are some heart-healthy tips that can help women and men manage their risk of developing heart diseases or have heart health issues in the future.
#1: Don’t smoke
Women who smoke are twice as likely to suffer from a heart attack as those who don’t smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke can also damage your blood vessels and increase your risk of heart conditions. The bottom line on smoking? If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, talk to your healthcare provider about some natural remedies like acupuncture or hypnotherapy to help you stop smoking. And lastly, if you’re frequently around someone who smokes, look for ways to minimize your exposure by staying in well-ventilated areas. You can also encourage them to quit smoking and support them in their journey.
#2: Aim for a healthy weight
Carrying added weight around not only affects your joints and spine health, but it also affects your overall heart health. The good news is that losing just a few pounds can lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of diabetes. However, even if your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar numbers seem to be in check, don’t fall into the trap of thinking those added pounds aren’t hurting you long term or that “everything is OK.” This recent John Hopkins study found that “excess weight was more than an ‘accomplice’ in the development of heart problem… the pounds themselves can be causing silent damage to your heart muscle.” Talk to your AlignLife chiropractor or healthcare provider about what weight is best for you, your body type and activity level, and what you can do to safely drop the pounds for long-term heart health.
#3: Get moving
Simply being active can also help your heart health. At the very least, you should aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity a week, but you’ll realize even more heart health benefits by being active at around 300 minutes (or 5 hours) per week.
Below are some examples of moderate and vigorous activities you can choose from to get started, but whatever activity and intensity level you choose, try to get your heart rate up so you can maximize and improve your cardiorespiratory fitness. A good way to know the intensity of your workout is to know and track your target heart rate. You’ll also notice that some of these activities don’t have anything to do with the gym.
Examples of moderate-aerobic activity
(heart rate is up, breathing is harder than normal, still able to talk)
- Brisk walking (at least 2.5 mph)
- Sweeping the floor
- Washing windows
- Water aerobics
- Slower dancing
- Biking (10 mph or under)
- Shooting a basketball
- Leisurely hiking
Examples of vigorous-aerobic activity
(heart rate is up, you begin to sweat, won’t be able to talk without getting out of breath)
- Jogging or running
- Swimming laps
- Step aerobics
- Strength training
- Heavy yard work (digging)
- Biking (10+ mph)
- Jumping rope
- Jumping on a trampoline or rebounder
- Hiking uphill
- Playing sports (basketball, hockey, soccer, singles tennis, racquetball)
#4: Eat for heart health
Making sure you’re eating a heart-healthy diet also helps prevent heart disease in the long run. So what does that look like? A good guideline to follow is to cut back on foods high in salt, cholesterol, and saturated fats and swap them out for more heart-healthy choices. Some examples of heart-healthy foods include more whole grains, a variety of fruits and vegetables, low-fat or no-fat dairy products, and more lean meats or plant-based proteins like chickpeas, black beans, and lentils. If you have trouble getting enough fruits and vegetables in your diet, check out Absolute Greens from Aceva for a daily dose of fruits and veggies in just one scoop.
#5: Reduce your stress
Stress also has a clear link to heart disease in women. Considering the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” survey found that women are consistently more likely to report higher stress levels than men, this is an important factor to take note of. Long-term stress exposure increases the levels of cortisol in your body. It can also cause your arteries to tighten, which can increase your risk of heart disease. Some techniques to help you manage stress include working out, practicing mediation, deep breathing or yoga, or getting out to relax and be social with friends. Read this article for even more ways to ease your stress: 7 Ways to Ease Stress & Anxiety at Home.
#6: Limit your alcohol
If you drink, try not to drink excessively. A good guideline to follow is no more than one drink daily for women or two drinks daily for men. It’s also important to note that a “drink” may not be what you think. A drink of beer is about 12 ounces. A drink of wine is about 4 ounces. And a drink of 80-proof spirits is just 1.5 ounces.
#7: Know your numbers to improve your heart health
Knowing your numbers is an important way to keep track of and measure your heart health. The reason for this is that too-high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar have few if any symptoms at first. That means the only way to know your levels is to have them checked at least annually. Below are four key numbers everyone should know.
Healthy Target: 120/80 or less
High blood pressure causes your heart muscle to work harder. This can lead to an enlarged or weakened heart. High blood pressure also narrows your arteries, which interrupts proper blood flow to your heart and brain.
Healthy Target: Total cholesterol lower than 200 mg/dL
Too much cholesterol in your body can also lead to heart disease because it leads to plaque buildup inside your blood vessels. This causes your arteries to harden, narrow, and limit blood flow to your heart and brain. Aim to keep your LDL cholesterol less than 100 mg/dL and your HDL cholesterol greater than 60 mg/dL. Your triglycerides should also be under 150 mg/dL.
Fasting Blood Glucose
Healthy Target: up to 100 mg/dL
You’re considered prediabetic if your fasting blood glucose levels fall between 100 to 125 mg/dL and diabetic if you’re above 125 mg/dL. This is important because diabetes can harm every organ in your body, including damaging your nerves and blood vessels.
Body Mass Index
Healthy target: 18.5 to 24.9
Your BMI is a weight-height guide that can help your healthcare provider determine if you’re overweight or obese. This is important because excess weight can cause all the other numbers listed above to rise, increasing your risk for heart disease and heart attacks. But BMI should be looked at as a guide, not a black and white rule. That’s because not everyone that falls outside the BMI range is considered at risk. For example, many athletes have a higher BMI because muscle weighs more than fat. If your BMI is higher than the healthy target, talk to your healthcare provider about a healthy range for you and if you need to take steps to lower it.
Need help getting your numbers in check?
In addition to the tips above, you can also try out Aceva’s Heart Care Bundle. Used together, this powerful trio is a great foundation for helping improve your overall cardiovascular health. CT-Reg features ingredients that have been shown to significantly improve many lipid markers (cholesterol, LDL HDL, triglycerides, fasting blood sugar, Hg-A1C, and fasting glucose). CoQ10 uses the highest absorbable form of ubiquinol and helps protect the arterial system by supporting your body’s cellular energy production. And, Omega 3 Plus helps you combat inflammation, reduce triglycerides, slow the buildup of plaque, and help lower your blood pressure.
Bottom Line on Heart Health for Women
Many women are so busy taking care of and managing life around them that they tend to overlook or ignore their own health. To make sure you’re the best you going forward, assess your heart health risks, make any heart-healthy changes that need to be made, and get your numbers checked regularly so you can track and measure how well you’re doing with your overall heart health.