Heart Health: Risks and Prescription for a Healthy Heart
Posted May 02 2008 5:01pm
In developed countries, heart disease is the leading cause of death in women over the age of 55. How do you know if you are at risk? And what can you do to keep your 'ticker' healthy before heart disease strikes?
You are at higher risk of developing heart disease when you:
Reach menopause. It is believed that the decrease in estrogen is the cause, however hormone replacement therapy is no longer recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease. Certain hormones (estrogen with progestin) actually have been found to increase the risk of heart disease, blood clots and stroke in some women, as well as increasing the risk of breast cancer.
Have high blood pressure. Your heart has to pump harder and your blood vessel walls become damaged making them more susceptible to getting clogged with plaque.
Have high cholesterol. Too much cholesterol can block arteries.
Have diabetes. High blood sugar can damage your arteries, making them prone to plaque development.
Smoke. If you smoke and take the pill, you are at even greater risk than if you smoke exclusively.
Don't exercise. The risk of developing heart disease for inactive women is twice as high than for active women.
Are overweight. The greater the excess weight, the greater your risk of developing heart disease.
Have a family history of heart disease that was diagnosed before the age of 55.
Have a certain race or socio-economic profile. Black and South Asian women, and women with lower levels of education and income are at higher risk.
So, now that you know the risks, what can you do to keep your heart healthy? Well, from the list above, there are a few things you can't do much about, like reaching menopause. However, you can do the following:
Exercise regularly, ensuring that your heart is pumping in its "training zone". The heart is a muscle that needs to be worked to remain healthy, just like all your other muscles.
Lose excess weight and maintain your ideal weight range throughout your lifetime if at all possible. Even a 10% drop in weight will reap huge benefits for you and your heart. Your energy level and vitality will also increase as a result.
Quit smoking. Not only will your heart and circulatory system reap the benefits, but your lung capacity will increase and your risk of developing certain related cancers will decrease (e.g. lung and throat cancers).
Reduce your cholesterol levels by decreasing your intake of saturated fats (e.g. butter, meat and whole milk) and eliminating trans fats completely from your diet (e.g. certain margarines and products made from shortening). Eat a diet high in soluble fiber (e.g., oatmeal, fruit, vegetables, beats, barley). You may also require cholesterol-lowering drugs as prescribed by your physician.
Keep your stress levels low and spend time in leisure activities that help to reduce stress. Maintain a balanced life that includes time for you to focus on your needs exclusively. Consider meditation as a daily practice as it reduces stress levels considerably. It is also a prescription for longevity. Long-term meditation results in a lower biological age for many.
See your doctor regularly to have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked. Many potential problems, if caught early, can be eliminated before they do irreparable damage.
One of my favorite heart-healthy recommendations is to laugh! And laugh! And laugh ... a lot! So, be happy - your heart will thank you.