Though you may associate heart disease and heart attacks as a men’s health issue, the disease actually kills more women than men each year. More than 200,000 women die each year from heart attacks—five times more than from breast cancer. The good news is: you can take charge of your heart health—and change its course for the better—today. Follow these five health tips from our specialists at the UAB Heart Health Center at Acton Road to get started.
- Know Your Numbers. There are several personal health measurements you should know, including your blood pressure, total cholesterol, and BMI (body mass index), to help you keep your heart health in check. Download this Know Your Numbers cheat sheet, and talk to you healthcare provider to learn how your health measures up. To make an appointment with a UAB heart specialist at the Heart Health Center, click here.
- Quit Cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes increases your risk of dying from heart disease by 2 – 3 times, so one of the best things to do for your heart is to quit now if you smoke. “Cigarette smoking accelerates the process of atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), lowers healthy cholesterol (HDL), and raises blood pressure,” says UAB cardiologist Dr. Alan S. Gertler. If you smoke and take birth control pills, you further raise your risk of a heart attack and pulmonary embolism, he adds. To get help, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free smoking cessation counseling.
- Spot an Attack. Knowing the signs of a heart attack could save your life—or the life of someone else. Women can experience different symptoms than men, such as pain in the jaw, between the shoulder blades, extreme fatigue, and shortness of breath. “A nurse’s study several years ago showed that less than half of women who presented with heart attacks actually complained of chest pain,” Dr. Gertler says. Watch Dr. Gertler and patient Carolyn Maupin discuss her heart disease symptoms and successful treatment (click the patient testimonials link).
- Get Moving. “Aerobic exercise is crucial for good heart health,” says Heart Health Center Nurse Practitioner Jody H. Gilchrist. “It helps with weight loss, raises good cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, and reduces the risk of diabetes. Women who exercise are also more likely to eat a heart-healthy diet and not smoke.” Exercise for 20 minutes per day (150 minutes a week) to reduce your heart disease risk, according to the American Heart Association.
- Eat Right. Gertler is a proponent of the Mediterranean-style diet for optimal heart health. The diet calls for fresh fruits and vegetables, omega-3-rich fish and nuts, and heart-healthy oils like olive oil. The diet is low on red meat, saturated fat, processed foods, corn syrup, wheat flour, and corn starch. For more heart-healthy meal ideas, download our Heart-Healthy Cookbook.