Heart attack, stroke, and other forms of heart disease are a threat to so many women. But you can take steps to protect your heart and lower your risk. Steps include getting regular physical activity, making healthy food choices, knowing your numbers and taking good care of yourself overall. It is also important to make sure you talk to your doctor about heart health and the use of menopausal hormone therapy or aspirin.
You don’t have to become a super athlete, but your body needs to move. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans state that an active lifestyle can lower your risk of early death from heart disease, stroke, and many other health problems. It can also boost your mood. Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:
Aerobic activity that includes:
- 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or
- 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or
- A combination of moderate and vigorous activity
- Muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days of the week
So pick an activity you like, and do it often.
Eating fatty, greasy food can make you put on weight. But that’s not the only risk. Unhealthy eating has a direct impact on your arteries, your blood pressure, your glucose level, among other things. You don’t need to go on a special diet to eat healthy. Just make sure you focus on eating fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, beans, peas, nuts, and lean meats. The foods you eat should also be low in saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol (koh-LESS-tur-ol), salt, and added sugars. If you drink alcohol, do it moderately. Women should drink no more than one alcoholic drink per day.
Knowing Your Numbers
Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure, cholesterol (total, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides) and blood sugar levels. These simple screening tests will give you important information about your heart health. Your doctor can tell you what your numbers mean and what you need to do to protect your heart.
Taking Care of Yourself
Stress, anxiety, depression, and lack of sleep have all been linked to increased risk of heart disease. And they’re not doing your mind or the rest of your body any good either. You may feel that you don't have enough time to take a break or get enough sleep now. But the possible results of overloading yourself, including heart attack and stroke, aren't worth it. In the midst of all you do, it's important to make time for yourself. Make sure you get the amount of sleep you need each day to wake up feeling refreshed. Take steps to keep stress in check, such as taking time each day to relax and unwind with friends or loved ones. And if you’re having trouble coping because of depression, anxiety, or other emotional health issues, get help. Your doctor or a counselor can teach you healthy ways to reduce stress or suggest treatment for depression or other mental health problems. Although we don’t know if treating emotional problems or reducing stress lowers heart disease risk, doing so will boost your overall health and well-being.
This article first appeared on WomensHealth.gov.