Your Healthy Heart

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women – but the good news is that cardiovascular disease is, believe it or not, greatly preventable with the right heart health strategies. It’s a matter of making lifestyle choices that can keep your heart healthy. And a healthy heart gives you more energy and stamina to enjoy life to the fullest.

Eating Well for Heart Health

Add heart-healthy foods to your regular diet. You can’t go wrong by eating more fruits and vegetables, whether they’re fresh or frozen. Even some canned produce is good. Look for low-sodium canned vegetables, and canned fruit packed in juice or water (not heavy syrup). Whole grain foods like oatmeal, brown rice, and even corn on the cob are also great for your heart, as long as you don’t smother them in butter. Other heart-healthy grain foods include whole grain breads and high-fiber breakfast cereals.

When it comes to protein, low-fat sources will do your heart good. Choose a slice of skinless chicken breast over fried chicken, for example. If every once in a great while you feel the need to eat bacon, sausage, or a hot dog, go ahead. Just don’t get into the habit of eating these high-fat, high-sodium processed meat products on a regular basis. Choose fish fillets over beef steaks. If you prefer a meatless diet, there are plenty of heart-healthy proteins to choose from, including legumes (peas, beans, peanuts), egg whites, and low-fat yogurts, cheeses, and milk.

What you need to do is limit unhealthy fats and cholesterol. By doing so, you’re reducing your blood cholesterol levels, thus reducing your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. Unhealthy fats tend to be found in butter, margarine, lard, shortening, and even nondairy creamers. Use “healthy fats” instead, such as olive oil or special margarine that’s trans fat-free.

Staying Active

You don’t have to take up mountain climbing or marathon running to keep your heart in shape. If you’re already doing these activities, good for you! If you’re not, here are several doable options to keep your cardiovascular system in great shape: walking, swimming, jogging, bicycle riding, dancing, jumping, skating, skiing, stair climbing, or working out to an exercise tape.

What you do is your choice. The important thing is to get up and move! This way, your body will get a good aerobic workout, with your heart pumping healthful oxygen-rich blood to all of your muscles – even your heart muscles.
Managing Weight

Yes, it’s a nuisance to think about, but the fact is that keeping up a healthy body weight is also an important factor in women’s heart issues and heart disease risk. The more excess body weight you carry, the harder your heart has to work to pump your blood.  With more weight comes a rise in the risk of high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol, and even heart attack and stroke.

Research has found that every little bit of weight control helps when it comes to getting your risk of heart disease under control.  Women who lose even 10 percent of their body weight – if they were overweight or had obesity – can substantially reduce heart disease risk. This doesn’t need to be done in a rush. Gradual weight loss resulting from healthy eating choices and regular exercise such as brisk daily walks, can provide the gradual reduction needed.

Remaining Calm for Heart Health

Our feelings and emotions do affect the health of our heart. Anger, stress, hostility, anxiety – all these raise blood pressure and put an unnecessary strain on the heart. When you find yourself getting upset, stop for a moment, take deep breaths, and count to ten. Your body and your mind will relax, and those negative feelings will dissolve.

Take time each day to do something calming for yourself. Go for a nature walk. Take a soothing bath. Read an inspiring book. Focus on something positive. By staying calm and upbeat, you’re helping your heart do its job under ideal conditions.

Enjoying Life

Recently the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) reported that London researchers discovered that happiness leads to lower levels of stress-inducing chemicals. This, in turn, reduces the risk of heart disease. Bottom line: maximize your happiness to improve your heart health!

Whether at work or at leisure, make sure to do something that helps you enjoy life more. Decorate your workspace with photos of people you love and places that stir your imagination. Make time in your day to do what you like, such as a favorite pastime, hobby, or interest. Laugh often. Enjoy life more, and you’ll end up worrying about your heart much less!

The Risks

The main risk factors among women are:

  • Smoking – chemicals in tobacco smoke cause the coronary arteries (which bring blood to the heart muscle) to constrict. This can lead to chest pain or angina; chronic arterial damage may also precipitate a heart attack. As soon as you give up smoking, your risk of heart attack falls, returning to near normal within three to five years.
  • The contraceptive pill – if you smoke and take the Pill, your risk of heart disease is 30 times higher than normal.
  • The menopause – the female hormone oestrogen plays an important role in keeping the heart and blood vessels healthy. After the menopause, oestrogen levels fall and the rate of heart disease rises rapidly.
  • Obesity and lack of exercise.
  • Diabetes – the risk is seven to ten times greater.
  • High blood fat/cholesterol levels – especially after the age of 50.