Are you safe from heart disease?

Heart disease is the number one killer of women.  In fact, more women die of heart disease than all forms of cancer combined.  The great news is that you have so much control of your heart health.  It is reported that 85% of heart disease is preventable through nutrition, and lifestyle choices, and medication if necessary.

This Friday, February 6th is National Wear Red Day in the US.

Even my eleven year old son knows about pink ribbons, and breast cancer.  But, most women don’t know about Wear Red Day.  Its not about the dress, although that truly does help open eyes and create awareness.  Its spreading the message that empowers women to stop or even reverse heart disease through simple and inexpensive diet and exercise.

Its not so easy

Having a healthy lifestyle is easier said than done.  Our usual go to food choices are ingrained in us from childhood, unless a conscious decision was made somewhere along the way.  And, when stress hits, all the best intentions dissolve under pressure as we grab our favorite comfort food.

You may not call it that.  But when a craving hits, and nothing satisfies until you get the rich taste you are longing for, that is your "comfort food".  Its okay, because being healthy isn’t all or nothing.  You can make wise choices most of the time, and have some comfort occasionally.  

Back to the point, though.  Heart disease is a serious threat for many of us.  Even those who look and feel really healthy.  You are okay with your weight, don’t smoke, and you feel great most of the time.  You know you could eat better and mean to exercise more, but the days go so fast, and everyone else needs you, so you just don’t think its that important right now.  You’ll do it when you have more time.  In the next season of life, you’ll do it then.

Start small, and start now

I want to encourage you to not put yourself off another day.  Let me share some facts with you.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 1 in 3 women will develop some form of cardiovascular disease after the age of 65.  Before age 65, the number is still high at 1 in 9.  And before you think its an old age issue, you need to know that half of all women’s heart attacks happen before the age of 70.

What can you do?

Know your risks

Factors that increase your chances of developing heart disease include family history, smoking, having diabetes or high cholesterol, and a sedentary lifestyle.  Except for the family history, you have some control over all the rest.  Diabetes is a disease, but type II is preventable in much the same way that heart disease is.

Obesity is another risk factor.  Obesity is defined as having a BMI (body mass index) over 30 (kilograms per meters squared).  For example, a woman who is 5’5” is considered obese at 180 pounds.  The BMI chart is not perfect, and there are certainly other considerations like muscle mass and body frame.  However, its a good starting place.

It is also helpful to note that there is significant benefit of weight loss at as little as 5%.  You don't need to reach the "ideal weight" to lower your risk of disease.  Just start wherever you are.

Get screened

If you haven’t been going to the doctor regularly, its time for a check up.  Talk to your doctor about your risk factors.  If you have any of the above risks, you should discuss your plan of action.  

Have your cholesterol and fasting blood sugar checked, if you don’t know where you stand.  You may be alerted of a borderline or silent issue.  

And, check your blood pressure.  You can easily have this done at a pharmacy, but cuffs are not one size fits all.  You need a proper fit to get an accurate reading.  

If you decide to get a monitor of your own, make sure it is an upper arm cuff.  The wrist monitors are not as reliable.

Be aware of the signs

Women experiencing a myocardial infarction (MI) have different symptoms than men generally do.  Often they will have no chest pain at all, but instead feel excessively tired, nausea, and jaw, neck, shoulder, and/or back pain.  These symptoms can seem much less alarming and are sadly put off for too long by many women.  That is why fewer women than men survive heart attacks.

Spread the message!

Let's spread the word about women’s heart disease.  There are still too many women who are not aware of their risks.  Share this post with a friend, or sister, or mother.  Let them know you love them and don’t want them to be among the 1 in 3 women with cardiovascular disease.  The more women who know and take action, those numbers will begin to change.  It is exciting to think of what all those women can do in the world with their longer lifespans!