After sending the kids off to school, putting in a full day's work, and tending to household chores, most women find there's little time to exercise, meditate, or prepare luscious, heart-healthy meals.
If you're one of those women and you think you're not at risk of
heart disease, think again. One in three American women die of
heart disease, making it the top killer of women in the United
States (according to NHLBI reports).
That's why women's health advocates say making time for yourself is important.
"A woman has to give herself permission to take charge and take care of her life," said Dr. Barbara Alving (acting director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), which is sponsoring "The Heart Truth," a campaign to raise women's awareness of heart disease).
As a key part of that initiative, Americans were encouraged to
wear red on one day. This has been designated as “National Wear Red
Coronary heart disease (the most common form of the disease) can start early in life, even in a woman's teen years. It progresses over time. Without treatment, the disease will worsen and eventually cause disability or death. This is shown in government data.
If you're middle-aged, now is the time to act. From age 40 to 60, a woman's risk of heart disease begins to rise (according to the NHLBI). There is plenty you can do to improve your heart’s health and dodge the serious consequences of heart disease. The first step is to know whether you are at risk.
Sister to Sister: Everyone Has a Heart Foundation Inc. hosts the
annual National Women's Heart Day. This is an opportunity for women
to get free heart disease screenings and information on living a
healthy lifestyle. Heart-health screenings, including tests for
total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (good cholesterol),
blood glucose, blood pressure, and body mass index is offered at
health fairs in many cities.
Of the 10,000 women screened during the first three years, 30 percent discovered they were indeed at risk of heart disease.
"This has been the most unbelievable finding," said Sister to Sister Founder and President Irene Pollin, a psychiatric social worker.
High blood sugar, high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure,
physical inactivity, smoking, obesity, and being overweight are all
major risk factors for heart disease. Diabetes, advancing age, and
a family history of heart disease can also boost a woman's risk.
Such information is readily available through simple screenings and patient histories. "The next step is motivating these women. That's what we do," Pollin said.
Once a woman knows her numbers and whether she's at risk for
heart disease, she can begin to do something about it. Easier said
than done? Sure, but according to medical professionals, there are
many ways to live healthier. Make it part of your routine.
"This has to become a way of life, like brushing your teeth in the morning," Alving said.
At the NHLBI, employees walk around with pedometers, provided free of charge, to motivate them to increase their level of physical activity. Alving's personal goal is 10,000 steps a day. Even a less-ambitious number can mark an improvement. "If a woman only does 5,000 and works on 7,000, that's great," she said.
Employees are also welcome to take 10 minutes out of their
workday to lift free weights, ride a stationary bike, or use an
elliptical stair climber. That equipment is provided for free in
designated "take-10 rooms," allowing for a short exercise break
with no need to shower afterward.
"This is our way of trying to really work it into the workday," Alving said.
Don't forget to diet. The American Heart Association recommends eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoid saturated fats to help reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
Even frequent restaurant diners can find a way to enjoy a meal without overindulging on the super-sized portions frequently served. "I have started asking for doggie bags," Alving admitted.
SOURCES: Barbara Alving, M.D., acting director, National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and director, Women's Health Initiative, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Md.; Irene Pollin, M.S.W., founder and president, Sister to Sister: Everyone Has a Heart Foundation Inc., Chevy Chase, Md.; American Heart Association, Dallas
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