Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in the United States, and yet there are a lot of basic facts about keeping our hearts healthy that many women are in the dark about. In fact, many women regularly make mistakes in day-to-day life that have a negative impact on heart health. Here are a few mistakes you may be making, and some tips for improving:
Smoking is bad for a lot of reasons, including your heart health. Smoking greatly increases your risk of heart disease and heart attack, and the risk is even higher for women who smoke and also take hormonal birth control pills. To keep your heart healthy and strong over the long term, smoking is one habit you’re going to want to ditch.
There’s good news here, too—after you stop smoking, your risk of heart disease drops fairly quickly. Even just one year after you stop smoking, your heart disease risk will be reduced in half, and after 15 years your risk of heart disease will be equal to someone who doesn’t smoke.
Misunderstanding the warning signs for a heart attack
Many of us think of chest pain as a defining characteristic of a heart attack. And while this is the most common symptom, it’s not always severe or noticeable, especially among women. Since heart attacks often present differently for women than men, it’s really important to know about some of the most common symptoms. In addition to chest pain (which might actually feel more like a tightness or pressure), here’s what you want to look out for:
- Shortness of breath
- Discomfort in your abdomen, shoulder, neck, jaw, or upper back
- Pain in one or both arms
- Lightheadedness and dizziness
It’s important to get medical attention right away if you experience any of these symptoms or believe you’re having a heart attack.
Eating an unhealthy diet
Diet has a huge impact on various aspects of your heart health, and eating too many unhealthy foods can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke. Fortunately, protecting your heart health doesn’t require an extremely strict diet and can actually be pretty delicious. The American Heart Association recommends eating a wide variety of nutrient-rich foods from every food group, including fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, low-fat dairy, lean sources of protein, and healthy fats. At the same time, you’ll want to avoid foods that are loaded with salt, added sugars, and trans fats—these don’t do any favors for our heart.
Not maintaining a healthy weight
Your risk of heart disease is lower when you maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight, your doctor can help you determine how much weight you need to lose to protect your heart health, and they can also help you come up with a plan for losing this weight and keeping it off. Overall, experts say a slow weight loss is the best route for keeping weight off in the long term.
Additionally, if you suffer from heart disease, maintaining a healthy weight is an important way to control the disease and reduce your risk of having a heart attack.
Not getting enough exercise
People shy away from exercise for a number of reasons—they don’t enjoy it, they get bored of doing the same thing every day, they don’t have any free time, and plenty more. But to maintain a healthy heart, exercise is key. Experts suggest fitting in at least thirty minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise every day, at least five times per week, or an hour and fifteen minutes of more vigorous physical activity per week. If your schedule doesn’t allow long exercise sessions, you can break this up into mini ten-minute exercise sessions throughout the day.
One of the best ways to make a habit of exercising is to stick to a routine. Choose a schedule that works for you and try your best to avoid letting obstacles like work and other commitments get in your way. When you put your health first, the rewards keep coming.
If you would like to meet with a knowledgeable doctor, consider contacting Arizona OB/GYN Affiliates (AOA) at 602-343-6174 or visit www.aoafamily.com. We have offices in Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Casa Grande, Goodyear, Scottsdale, Gilbert, and Chandler.