What do you think is the greatest threat to a woman’s longevity — depression, heart attack or breast cancer? If you’re like 45 percent of women interviewed in a recent Women’s Heart Alliance survey, you don’t realize that the answer is heart attack. And that’s risky.
The survey found that 60 percent of female patients did not have their heart health assessed at their last doctor’s appointment. And while 74 percent of women in the survey had one or more risk factors for heart disease, only 16 percent of them had been told so by their doctor. Even more alarming, a companion survey of 200 doctors found that only 39 percent of primary care providers knew that heart disease is the top health concern for women. In addition, only 22 percent of primary care doctors and 42 percent of cardiologists said that they felt well-prepared to assess heart disease in women.
Both docs and women need to be aware of the importance of tracking a woman’s heart health throughout her life. After all, around 80 percent of heart disease is avoidable, and fully 25 percent of deaths from full-blown heart disease are, too.
Fortunately, every girl and woman can do a great deal to make sure her heart stays healthy. It starts with you, Mom, making sure your young girls and teens (and their brothers) are not overweight, get plenty of outdoor activity, eat a varied diet of fresh fruits and veggies, and avoid sweetened beverages, fried foods and anything that’s highly processed. Did you know that overweight and obese kids are at a greatly increased risk of premature heart disease, diabetes, asthma, high blood pressure, joint problems, emotional turmoil, gallstones, menstrual problems and sleep apnea?
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Adult women have to take the lead for themselves. An estimated 44 million women already have heart disease. But it’s never too late to make significant improvements. So here’s a five-step program that will offer you decades of protection from heart woes.
▪ Get checked. See your doc for a baseline assessment of your heart health. Work together to determine what you can do, safely and effectively, to improve and protect your cardiovascular system. Decades from now, when you’re still active and your brain is sharp and clear, you’ll be grateful that you became heart smarter now.
▪ De-stress. Stress aggravates high blood pressure, fuels inflammation (it’s hard on the arteries) and often triggers overeating (excess weight strains the heart). Ease your stress response with yoga or tai chi. A review in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology found that yoga helped improve blood pressure, lowered lousy LDL cholesterol levels and reduced weight. Tai chi also brings down blood pressure slightly and improves oxygenation and blood flow.
▪ Sleep. Insomnia or erratic sleep habits are hard on the heart. The Nurses’ Health Study found that getting only five or six hours of sleep a night substantially ups the risk for heart disease. So adopt a lights-off schedule and stick to it. Remember, no digital devices in the bedroom, and only red-wavelength lights. Practice deep breathing and progressive relaxation to get sleepy (instructions at sharecare.com).
▪ Eat smart. Keep small veins and large arteries open and flexible by eating 7-9 servings of fresh fruit and veggies daily and banishing all trans and most sat fats (no red or processed meats), added sugars and syrups, and any processed grains. Extra tip: Avoid alcohol-containing mouthwashes.
▪ Get moving. You need to log 10,000 steps or the equivalent daily (see walking routines at sharecare.com) and have two to three 30-minute strength-training sessions a week. That helps manage weight, stress, blood pressure, metabolism, blood sugar and mood -- all important for your heart health.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit www.sharecare.com.