5 Heart Health Mistakes to Avoid

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:

  1. Shortness of breath
  2. Discomfort in your abdomen, shoulder, neck, jaw, or upper back
  3. Pain in one or both arms
  4. Nausea/vomiting
  5. Lightheadedness and dizziness
  6. Fatigue
  7. Indigestion
  8. Sweating

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.

The Benefits of Exercise During Pregnancy

Exercise during pregnancy will decrease weight gain, may ease the pain of delivery, lower your risk for gestational diabetes, reduce pressure on your lower back (as mentioned in a previous article), and can increase your overall energy levels during those 9 months. We’ve spoken about yoga during pregnancy, and stretching, but how important is exercise, really? Can exercise make pregnancy and labor easier? The answer; yes it can.

Mommy and Baby Benefits to Exercise

Feeling your best during pregnancy can be tough. Besides the aches and pains, there can be mood swings, cravings, and plain feeling down.

  • Endorphins: Exercise has been proven in scientific research to release endorphins; those little protein molecules that can control pain, cravings, reduce stress and make you feel good. Endorphins can be released during meditation, deep breathing, laughter, and exercise.
  • Improved Posture: According to SutterHealth.com, one of the most important contributions to a healthy pregnancy is good posture. Maintaining good posture can reduce pressure on your lower back, reduce pain and decrease fatigue. Mindful exercises that focus on the lower back and abdominal muscles will help train your back to maintain good posture throughout the pregnancy.
  • Gestational Diabetes: According to FitPregnancy.com, exercise can reduce your risk for gestational diabetes by as much as 27 percent. While genetics and age play key roles in whether you are at risk for developing gestational diabetes, you can fight batck with exercise.
  • Stress Relief: Stress can play a major role in your pain tolerance, levels of fatigue, mood, even preterm labor. A high degree of anxiety and stress can affect your baby’s health, as well as your own, contributing to a boost in risk for preterm labor and/or delivering a low-birthweight baby.  Regular exercise reduces stress, plain and simple.
  • Less Weight Gain: With regular exercise, research has shown you are more likely to gain less weight. Studies have shown that women who exercise during pregnancy put on 7 pounds less than those who didn’t exercise during pregnancy.
  • Increased Odds for Vaginal Birth: According to FitPregnancy.com, regular exercisers are 75 percent less likely to need a forceps delivery, 55 percent less likely to have an episiotomy and up to four times less likely to have a Cesarean section.

On top of those wonderful benefits to exercising during pregnancy, your labor might be shorter and less painful; you’ll likely experience less leg swelling, less likely to experience morning sickness, and will reap the benefits of impressed onlookers at the gym. It’s always nice to get some positive feedback when it comes to your appearance during pregnancy, and this added little benefit will help to decrease some of the self-consciousness that we all struggle with.

Pregnancy and Streching

While there are many aspects of your pregnancy that you do not have control over, there are still just as many that you can manage with determination; mood, soreness, and the pain associated with childbirth can be managed with exercise, stretching and breathing techniques. For the purpose of today’s article, let’s dive into the important of some good stretching to get your body through the day-to-day, and to prepare you for childbirth.

Stretching While Pregnant

Stretching is an amazing activity that everyone should be doing every day, especially while pregnant. Stretching not only increases overall flexibility, it teaches slow breathing, controlled breathing, and releases tension throughout the body that could be causing pain from muscle tightening.

Stretching and controlled breathing go hand-in-hand, and by teaching your body to relax with controlled breathing you will be preparing yourself for labor pains. When stretching, be sure to breathe deeply and slowly, feeling your abdomen and lungs expanding fully, allowing for better gas exchange and more oxygen to your baby. In the end, you and your baby will fee refreshed and better than ever.

Useful Pregnancy Stretches

The most common pregnancy stretch, according to Mayo Clinic, is the lower back stretch. This can be incredibly beneficial, helping you feel your best and increasing oxygen flow to your baby. Because pregnancy places a great deal of pressure on your lower back, and in fact changes your posture for a better part of 9 months, lower back pain is quite common, which can lead to other pregnancy aches and pains.

The lower back stretch, also known as the Cat Stretch in yoga, involves arching your back while on hands and knees on a soft surface. Inhale as you round your back, holding the position for 5 to 10 seconds, an exhaling deeply as you release the position. This will take pressure off of your lower back and help to relax those overused muscles of the spine.  (cat stretch photo)

Another area of the body pregnancy greatly affects are the hips. With the baby resting on your pelvis and lower abdomen, the hips deal with a lot more pressure than they normally would. Hip stretches are wonderful for releasing some of that pressure, decreasing pain, and preparing those hips for childbirth.

While it is often overlooked, the neck holds a great deal of tension during pregnancy, and releasing that pressure could decrease any headaches you’ve been having. The most basic way to stretch your neck is with neck rolls, tilting your head from side to side while maintaining focus on your breathing.

Remember, as you began to breathe deeper and more controlled while stretching your muscles, you are also helping to increase circulation, all of which are wonderful things for both yourself and your baby.

What stretches work for you? What have you found to be most effective at releasing lower back pressure and tension? Let us know here in the comments below, or on our Facebook page. Join the conversation!

Yoga for Pregnancy

When you are pregnant, often the last thing you feel like doing is moving…at all. However, the more you move and the more stretching you do, in particular, the more beneficial it is for you in every day. You will feel better and when it’s time to put in the work of delivering your baby, you will be so much more prepared physically. In fact, this is the main benefit of prenatal yoga, which is becoming a more popular pastime among moms-to-be. Yoga for moms can be done at just about any time during the pregnancy, unless yours is a high-risk pregnancy.

In fact, before starting any workout regimen, pregnant or not, it’s always prudent to check with your doctor first. During pregnancy, this point is even more poignant as you need to be aware of your general physical condition at all times. If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, then you might consider prenatal yoga for any number of reasons.

Yoga for moms will improve your balance (which you’ll find declines towards the end of your pregnancy), helps you to become more limber and provides great muscle tone. More than that, you learn the art of deep breathing and how to use it to work through just about any situation, including labor pains. The process of breathing in yoga involves taking breaths through your nose and completely filling your lungs. You then exhale all of the air you just took in. This type of deep breathing will help you to maintain a sense of calm throughout the childbirth process, which can be frightening for first-time moms in particular. Yoga for moms can help to mitigate that fear through deep breathing.

In fact, according to a study published in Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, researchers found that pregnant women that took prenatal yoga for at least 10 weeks were generally more comfortable during the labor process.  A similar study done in Thailand by researchers at the Prince of Songkla University found similar benefits, citing that yoga for moms helps pregnant women to maintain a better sense of peace and calm during the labor process, which in turn helps to control pain.

Yoga for moms is just another tool in the arsenal for women preparing to give birth. It provides invaluable mental and physical benefits to prepare you for the miraculous but laborious process of delivering a baby.