10 Ways to be Heart Healthy

Woman with a healthy heart

February focuses on matters of the heart, with its designation as American Heart Month and observance of Valentine’s Day, spotlighting our love for friends and family.

Even with heart health awareness increasing, only 56% of U.S. women realize heart disease is their number-one killer. In 2017 alone 299,578 women lost their lives to heart disease, the cause of one out of five female deaths that year.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in white and African American women. It ties with cancer as cause of death in both Native American and Alaskan Native women. Heart disease is second only to cancer as the cause of death in women of Hispanic, Asian or Pacific Island descent.

February is the perfect time to know your heart disease risk and steps you can take to optimize your heart health.

What Is Heart Disease?

Coronary heart disease (CHD)/coronary artery disease (CAD) is the most common heart disease. CHD/CAD occurs when coronary arteries, pathways taking blood to the heart, are narrow or blocked. This happens when cholesterol and fatty material (plaque) build in the arteries. Plaque causes include:

  • Excessive fat and cholesterol in the blood
  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Excessive sugar in the blood (diabetes)

When plaque blockage occurs, blood flow to the heart slows and becomes difficult and can cause chest pain or initiate heart attack.

Heart Attack Symptoms

Heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is suddenly blocked. Common heart attack signs include:

  • Pain/discomfort in the center or left side of the chest – or feelings of pressure, squeezing, or fullness
  • Pain/discomfort in the upper body (arms, back, shoulders, neck, jaw, or upper stomach above the belly button)
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing during rest or activity
  • Queasiness or vomiting
  • Stomach ache or heartburn sensations
  • Feeling dizzy, light-headed or unusually tired
  • Cold sweats

Not everyone experiences all signs; some women exhibit no symptoms. Signs can be sudden or develop slowly over hours, days or even weeks.

Don’t ignore changes in how you feel. Calling 911 can save your life.

Heart Health Risk Factors

Everyone is at risk for heart disease and it’s more prevalent in today’s younger adults. Many risks are conditions/behaviors we can change:

  • Control high blood pressure
  • Maintain healthy blood cholesterol
  • Eliminate smoking and vaping
  • Maintain healthy weight
  • Manage and control diabetes
  • Be physically active
  • Eat a healthy diet avoiding foods high in trans-fat, saturated fat, added sugars and sodium.

Age and family history indicate heart disease risk. You face greater heart disease risk if:

  • You are a woman 55-plus
  • Your father or brother had heart disease before age 55
  • Your mother or sister had heart disease before age 65

10 Tips to Optimize Heart Health

Fortunately, there are ways to help reduce heart disease risk:

  1. Monitor and manage cholesterol and blood pressure. It’s especially important to monitor these risk factors, as they present no symptoms. Have cholesterol checked every 4 to 6 years and blood pressure checked regularly. Take prescribed medications as directed by your physician.
  2. Know family history. Have “heart-to-heart” family discussions to identify risk. Alert your doctor to changes.
  3. Discuss prophylactic aspirin regimen with your doctor. If you are 50 to 59, initiate discussion with your doctor; however, it is not recommended for all.
  4. Talk to your physician about risk-lowering medications. Experts recommend those 40 to 75 presenting high heart disease and stroke risk consult their doctor about possible statin usage.
  5. Make heart-healthy nutrition changes. Eat foods low in trans- and saturated fats, added sugars and sodium. Examine all food labels, especially processed foods like cereals and canned goods. Eat whole fruits and vegetables, whole-grain foods and low-fat proteins. Limit unhealthy fats.
  6. Limit alcohol. Too much alcohol consumption increases heart disease risk.Women should limit alcohol intake to one drink/day; men should have no more than two drinks/day.
  7. Maintain a healthy weight. Change your family’s diet and lifestyle habits to achieve a healthy weight, which can optimize heart performance and reduce heart disease risk.
  8. Don’t smoke. Smoking damages blood vessels, can cause heart disease and is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you smoke, learn how to quit -- call 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Avoid second-hand smoke.
  9. Manage stress effectively. Doing so can prevent heart disease, depression and high blood pressure. Deep breathing, meditation, mindfulness and yoga are good ways to relax.
  10. Stay active. Move for 150 minutes minimum weekly. Walking, exercise classes, hiking, biking, swimming or physical activity you enjoy are options. Physical activity can maintain a healthier weight and can lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

For more information about heart health, contact your area Capital Women’s Care team. Our staff can talk to you and your family about heart disease prevention, screening, and treatment.

Our Mission

The providers of Capital Women's Care seek the highest quality medical and ethical standard in an environment that nurtures the spirit of caring for every woman.


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