Although deaths from cardiovascular disease have declined since the mid 90s, it’s still a sad fact that one in three women will die of the disease.
Cardiologist Joni Summitt said heart disease is a concern for women of all ages. The risk for developing it rises after menopause, but many young women also suffer.
“Women of childbearing years die from cardiovascular disease too,” she said.
While one risk factor of heart disease is a family history, Summitt said there are many lifestyle changes women can make to protect their hearts. She recommends focusing on these four health areas to reduce your overall risk for heart disease:
- Quit smoking. Smokers who quit reduce their risk back to almost the same level it would have been if they’d never started.
- Lose or maintain weight. Maintaining a healthy normal weight within accepted BMI ranges of 18.5 to 24.9 cuts your risk. Obese women are six times more likely to die from heart disease and its complications.
- Focus on fresh foods. A healthy diet ideally includes tons of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish at least twice per week, and no more than one alcoholic drink per day. Summitt advises cutting back on sugar, starch, saturated fats, and limiting sodium to no more than 2.3 grams per day, ideally less than that. Following this type of diet is associated with a lower risk of myocardial infarction in women, she said.
- Move it. Exercise is extremely beneficial when it comes to lowering your chances of developing hear t disease. Summitt said just three hours per week of walking can reduce your risk by one-third – that’s about a half hour of walking per day. Upping your movement to five hours per week can reduce your risk by 50 percent.
It’s also worth noting that more men actually get the disease, but “women die more often from this disease than men,” Summit said.
She explained that women tend to present with the disease later than men do and their cases are at more of an advanced stage, meaning they miss out on earlier treatment.
She pointed to some studies that show women don’t receive the same type of care when it comes to their hearts. For example, they’re less likely to have their cholesterol screened than men. Even after a heart attack or stroke, women are less likely to receive cardiac rehabilitation care, according to Summit. When guidelines are followed, disparities are reduced, but Summit said women should be raising their voices to ensure they get the care they need.
“You need to be your own advocate and speak up about that,” she said.
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