A healthy heart works constantly to keep you alive, and it requires care in order to stay strong. “Heart healthy diet,” “heart healthy exercises,” or, “leading a heart healthy lifestyle” – what seem like trendy buzzwords in passing, are in actuality, life-saving bits of information that could one day save your life if you take action now.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. Yet, only 1 in 5 American women believe that heart disease is her greatest health threat. 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 80% of cardiovascular diseases are preventable!
Heart attacks, strokes, and other heart diseases can be catastrophic and life-changing, but changes in your lifestyle, eating habits, and exercise routine could prevent tragedy. Learn how to be proactive about your health by implementing a heart healthy lifestyle.
Risk Factors for Heart Disease
The first step you should take in living a heart healthy lifestyle, is to learn about your family’s health history. Heart disease can be genetic. Women with a family history of heart disease need to be mindful of their choices. Smoking, excessive alcohol use, and living a sedentary lifestyle can contribute to high cholesterol and weakened arteries.
Smokers, and those subject to secondhand smoke, have more than twice the risk of having a heart attack than non-smokers.
Risk factors are also higher for women who:
- Are over 50 years old.
- Are post-menopausal.
- Are clinically obese.
- Had pregnancy-related complications preeclampsia, gestational high blood pressure, and an imbalance of fluids and electrolytes.
- Have diabetes.
- Have hypertension, also known as high blood pressure.
The risk of developing heart disease rises for everyone as they age, but for women, risk increases after menopause due to a lack of estrogen production. If you’re over 50, it’s time to take your personal risk factors to heart, and be aware of the warning signs that could save your life or the life of someone you love.
Heart Attack Symptoms
- Frequent nausea or vomiting
- Jaw, neck, or upper back pain
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme fatigue
Heart Healthy Habits
A heart healthy lifestyle goes a long way in preventing heart disease in women. Making small changes in your diet or exercise routine will prolong your quality of life. You can drastically lower your chance of heart disease and heart attacks by taking simple steps.
- Make health eating choices
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get regular exercise
- Quit smoking
- Limit alcohol consumption
Heart Healthy Diet
One of the most effective ways to prevent heart disease, is by eating heart healthy foods. Choose foods low in saturated fats, LDL cholesterol, sodium, and added sugars.
Saturated fats and LDL cholesterol come from animal products such as cheese, fatty meats, dairy, and certain oils like palm oil. Eat foods naturally high in fiber –oatmeal, steel cut oats, and beans - and high in unsaturated fats, such as those found in avocado, vegetable oils, and nuts.
Cholesterol is naturally produced in your body. Too much cholesterol in your blood causes fatty deposits to buildup in your arteries. This restricts blood flow and forces your heart to work harder to get your blood pumping.
Your body makes all of the cholesterol it needs, so adding cholesterol into your diet only stacks on plaque in the walls of your arteries. Hunt for foods high in HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol. Fish, nuts, and certain fruits and vegetables provide much healthier quantities of fat and oils.
Heart Healthy Exercises
The heart is just like any other muscle – it needs to be worked to keep it strong and healthy. While your heart does work around the clock to keep you alive, its default function is not nearly enough to build proper strength.
You should get at least 150 minutes of exercise per week!
If you’re not one to visit a gym, take a jog around a park, or hop on a bicycle and explore the closest nature trail, then it may be time to push yourself, and venture out of your comfort zone. You can even make getting physical fun! Play basketball with friends, go dancing, or try water aerobics.
Make physical activity a part of each day. Take the stairs instead of an elevator, park further away to add to your walk, or do a few jumping jacks to start your day. A strong, healthy heart will continue to beat well into your later years.
Treat Your Medical Conditions
Your body is an intricate ecosystem of stimulus and response. If you constantly eat unhealthy foods, your body’s response will be to gain weight and build cholesterol in your arteries. If you have a medical condition and allow it to go untreated, it could worsen and cause new diseases to arise.
Heart disease is linked to the development of other diseases such as Alzheimer’s. According to studies conducted by a research team led by Dr. Rebecca Gottesman at Johns Hopkins University, problems in the vascular system—the heart and blood vessels that supply blood to the brain—contribute to the development of dementia.
Live a Heart Healthy Life
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for preventing heart disease, but there are simple habits you can incorporate into your routine that will lead to a better quality of life, no matter your age.
Choosing to live a heart healthy life may seem overwhelming, but it will pay off in the long term. Talk to your doctor today about your risk factors for heart disease, and how you can easily shift to a heart healthy lifestyle!
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*This blog is for general informational purposes only. Christopher K. Quinsey MD, P.A. does not distribute medical advice through this blog. As such, this blog does not constitute a patient-client relationship between the reader and Christopher K. Quinsey MD, P.A.