Something is killing women in America at an alarming rate. It’s not bird flu, E.coli, swine flu or many of the other flashes you see everyday in the news. In fact, the number-one killer of women in the US is heart disease.
Our hearts are amazing muscles. They start beating six weeks after conception, while we are still in our mother’s womb, and continue steadily until the day we die. Along the way, they can be assaulted by disease without us ever knowing it.
Heart disease creeps up on us slowly, often remaining undetected until we find ourselves in crisis. We’ve improved our management of chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. But the obesity epidemic, low mobility and widespread diabetes leave us parked behind the eight ball.
The fact is, many of us can control the lifestyle factors that prevent heart disease. Only 30% of how we age is controlled by genetics. This leaves a full 70% of how we age, including how our hearts age, in our direct control.
The American Heart Association recently published its recommendations for preventing heart disease in women in the journal Circulation.
The following seven recommendations are true lifesavers:
1. Avoid Smoking: Firsthand, secondhand – all of it. Your heart and lungs are not the toxic waste dump for the tobacco industry.
2. Exercise regularly: Thirty to 60 minutes of intense, heart-rate-raising, total body exercise. You strengthen your heart and, as a bonus, you strengthen your mind.
3. What you eat matters: You have a waistline, not a wasteline. Eat a diet high in fruits, veggies and whole grains. Eat fish twice a week. Limit saturated fats (that’s right: no fried foods), excess alcohol and excess sugar.
4. Manage your body composition and your weight: How much fat you have hanging around your body matters, as fat is a toxic metabolic organ that produces chemicals and hormones that, in excess, damage your body.
5. Lower your blood pressure: Your heart is a muscle. The harder it has to work to push blood through your vessels, the worse it is for its longevity. Decrease the work your heart must do by lowering the blood pressure it has to pump against. Exercise or medical treatment does the trick.
6. Keep your cholesterol and LDL in check: High cholesterol not only gums up the vessels your heart must push blood through (like a clogged drain), but cholesterol actually infiltrates your vessel walls, causing damage and increasing the risk of heart attack. Exercise or medical treatment can help fix this.
7. Be sweet on the outside, not the inside: High blood sugar also damages your blood vessels and soft tissues while complicating diabetes. Keep your blood sugar in check with exercise or medical treatment.
Remember: The first step toward prevention is knowing yourself. Get to the doctor and find out your weight and blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
Finally, the AHA wants to clear up some myths surrounding the fight against heart disease. Here’s the truth:
1. Estrogen replacement does not prevent heart disease or stroke.
2. Antioxidants (folic acid, vitamin C) do not prevent heart disease or stroke.
3. B vitamins (folic acid, vitamins B6 and B12) do not prevent heart disease or stroke.
When it comes to heart health, you are in control. Now, make the changes that can save your heart and your life.