How can I reduce my risk? Start with our BEST PRACTICES:

The First Step to Heart Health is Literally a STEP:

but how does my heart benefit from exercise?

Exercise is one of the keys to preventing heart issues. Like all muscles, the heart becomes stronger as a result of exercise, so it can pump more blood through the body with every beat and continue working at maximum level, if needed, with less strain. The resting heart rate of those who exercise is also slower, because less effort is needed to pump blood. 

Exercise also stimulates the production of new blood vessels. As we make more blood vessels, there are more places for blood to flow, which results in more efficient circulation. Cardiovascular exercise increases the number of new blood vessels while resistance training increases the size of those blood vessels.

Healthy Food Choices the Key to Your Heart Story:

but how does what I eat affect my heart?

The food you eat can affect the way blood flows through your heart and arteries. A diet high in fat and cholesterol can gradually cause a buildup (called "plaque") in your arteries. That buildup slows down the blood flow and blocks small arteries. If the blockage happens in an artery that carries blood to the heart muscle, the heart muscle can die. That's a heart attack. If the blockage happens in an artery that carries blood to the brain, part of the brain can die. That's a stroke (also called a brain attack). The right diet helps keep your arteries clear and reduces the risk of heart problems and stroke. Keeping your heart healthy by following nutritional guidelines isn’t that hard, plus you’ll feel the effects almost immediately! 

heartdiseasesymptoms

The most basic risk factors are family history, blood pressure, cholesterol, body mass index and blood sugar, but there are many more factors that influence your heart health. Your hormones, especially estrogen, provide a cardio-protective benefits. If your hormones are in flux or imbalanced--such as during pregnancy, extreme cases of PMS, taking certain forms of birth control or metabolic disorders--you increase the chances that you will have heart disease. Having the conversation earlier with your OB/GYN and PCP may prevent future harm to your heart. 

Some of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, body weight/body mass index and high blood glucose. These numbers can serve as a wake-up call to jumpstart a healthier lifestyle. Testing should occur as follows:

  • Blood pressure – every regular health care visit starting at age 20
  • Cholesterol – every five years starting at age 20. More often if: total cholesterol is above 200; if you are a man older than 45 or a woman older than 50; if you’re a woman whose HDL is less than 50 or a man whose HDL is less than 40; if you have other cardiovascular risk factors
  • Weight/body mass index – every health care visit starting at age 20
  • Waist circumference – as needed starting at age 20
  • Blood glucose – every three years starting at age 45

You can learn more about your numbers and key health indicators with the Go Red Heart CheckUp.

2. Assess Your Lifestyle Habits

Now that you know what your risk factors are, you can assess the habits in your life that can reduce your chance of being affected by heart disease. 1 in 3 women has heart disease, so the likelihood that you will have it is already high. Improving your lifestyle habits will not only reduce risk but also allow you to manage the disease if you are affected. 

In your 20s

Any prescription medication that alters or affects your pituitary glad and estrogen can be harmful if you are at risk for heart disease. Unnaturally increasing other hormones such as Progestins, may negatively impact the way estrogen works to help your heart. 

  • Know early the numbers that impact your heart health. This will make it easier to spot a possible change in the future. Your goal should be less than 200 mg of total cholesterol intake daily, and strive for a blood pressure reading of 120/80 mm Hg or less.
  • Choose birth control carefully. Talk to your doctor about your options so you can make a fully informed decision based on the risks and benefits. Oral contraceptives along with other birth control options can cause an increase in your blood pressure. If you can safely use an alternative method that doesn’t put your health at risk, consider the advantages. Remember that cigarette smoking and oral birth control use can increase the risk of serious cardiovascular disease.
  • Check your family history. Ask your family if anyone has had heart disease or any of the risk factors for heart disease. If the answer is yes, your chances for developing heart disease go up. It’s important to learn this information now so you can be aware of your risk. Make a point to talk with your doctor and see what you can do to decrease your risk of developing heart disease.
  • Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. If you picked up smoking as a teen, it’s time to quit. Even exposure to secondhand smoke poses a serious health hazard. To make matters worse, according to a U.S. Surgeon General report, nonsmokers are up to 30 percent more likely to develop heart disease or lung cancer from secondhand smoke exposure.
  • Drink in moderation. Drinking heavily can cause a spike in your blood pressure, and in some cases cause heart failure and lead to a stroke. Keep in mind that for women, moderate drinking is no more than one drink per day, which is defined as:
    • 1-1/2 fluid ounces (fl oz) of 80-proof spirits (such as bourbon, scotch, vodka, gin, etc.)
    • 1 fl oz of 100-proof spirits
    • 4 fl oz of wine
    • 12 fl oz of beer

In your 30s

Yoga can be a great way to reduce stress and increase your bodies ability to regulate blood pressure, especially if you use the inspiration/expiration yoga breath or Ujjayi breathing. 

  • Tame your stress.  Long-term stress causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure that may damage the artery walls. Pick up a few stress management techniques to soothe your mind and body. Try deep breathing exercises and find time each day to do something you enjoy – whatever it takes to knock out stress.
  • ‘Me time’ isn’t optional – it’s a requirement. Juggling a family and career has probably left you with little time to worry about yourself. Life is a balancing act, but your health should always come first. Now is the time to build heart-healthy habits. That means eating healthy, getting lots of physical activity and a full night’s sleep. Studies have shown that if you can avoid the conditions that put you at risk for heart disease until you turn 50, chances are good that you may never develop it. Make your health a priority.
  • Choose birth control carefully. Talk to your doctor about your options so that you can make a fully informed decision based on the risks and benefits. Many types of contraceptives, but especially oral contraceptives, can cause an increase in your blood pressure. If you can safely use an alternative method that doesn’t put your health at risk, consider the advantages. Remember that cigarette smoking and oral birth control use can increase the risk of serious cardiovascular disease.

In your 40s

  • Strive for more balance and less stress. Women are naturally caretakers. Ask any mom, spouse, businesswoman or caretaker; chances are, they rarely put their own needs first. But what would happen if you were suddenly too sick to take care of your family or go to work? The bottom line is prevention. You have to make time and invest in your own health — for yourself and the people who depend on you. Try yoga, take up gardening, get a weekly massage or mani-pedi, pick up a new hobby or an old one that love but stopped doing years ago. Whatever it is, do something that can make the stress melt away.
  • Make your wellbeing a priority.  By 40, some women have already made physical activity part of their daily life, but if you haven’t, it can seem like a chore. Between family and work, it may be difficult to make time for yourself, but it is critical for your health. Regular physical activity (150 minutes moderate intensity or 75 minutes vigorous intensity aerobic physical activity each week) can improve your blood pressure and HDL “good” cholesterol, reduce your chances of developing diabetes, and strengthen your heart.
  • Get regular checkups In addition to blood pressure checkups and other heart-health screenings, you should have your blood sugar level tested by the time you’re 45. This first test serves as a baseline for future tests, which you should have every three years. Here are the tests you should have:
    • Weight and Body Mass Index
    • Waist Circumference
    • Blood Pressure
    • Cholesterol
    • Heart Exam
    • Fasting Blood Glucose