One in three women will die from cardiovascular disease this year. For men, the American Heart Association says it’s one in four. That’s higher than all types of cancer fatalities combined. Of course, there are risk factors that can increase a woman’s chance of getting the disease. Some include bone health, menopause and complications during pregnancy. Other common risk factors that can occur more in African-American, Hispanic or South Asian women include high blood pressure, which can put them at a greater risk.
It’s not all bad. Research also shows that 80 percent of heart disease is actually preventable. There are simple lifestyle changes you can start now to live a more heart healthy lifestyle. Work with your doctor to assess risk factors you may have, form a plan to live healthier, and stick to it.
You may be wondering where to start, just like many other women. We created a simple guide in our book “Heart Smart for Women, Six S.T.E.P.S. in Six Weeks to Heart-Healthy Living.” By following these six steps, women can significantly decrease their risk of heart disease.
1. Stock your pantry with healthy foods: It all starts with what you’re eating not only for meals, but also snacks throughout the day. As women get older, our metabolism slows down and we need to refuel with nutrient-dense foods and stay away from processed options. Always look at the labels of what you’re buying, make a focused list and eat before you shop. We all know that feeling of wanting to buy the whole supermarket if we shop hungry.
2. Take control of your activity and choose to move every day: You do not have to be a world class athlete or bodybuilder to get a good workout in. It can even be walking around your neighborhood a few times a week. When you move, not only does your heart beat faster, but the blood also pumps through your body faster. Even better, you feel more energized throughout the day. It also helps to incorporate strength and resistance training to prevent muscle loss and stay flexible.
3. Eat a healthy diet at home and when dining out: Stick to whole foods, home cooked meals and ditch the take-out. Create a plan, stick to your original portions and don’t overeat. Try to eat foods that are low in sugar, saturated fats, and sodium. When you do dine out, order lean meats with vegetables as your sides.
4. Partner with your doctor: You should not seek help only when you feel sick. Make sure you plan with a doctor you feel comfortable with, and who can help shepherd you to good health.
5. Sleep more. Stress less. Savor life: It’s no surprise many of us are constantly busy. Some nights it seems like we don’t even get close to the eight hours of recommended sleep. But rest revives the body. If you do not get enough sleep over a period of time, you can be more prone to diseases like diabetes, which lead to heart disease. If you don’t believe us, ask Arianna Huffington, who compares a good night sleep to washing the dishes.
6. Put all of the steps together into one plan: Exercising alone will decrease your risk of heart disease. Replacing a few snacks with a healthier option will too. But heart healthy living is a lifestyle change that takes commitment and time, and if you stick to your plan for six weeks and beyond, your heart will thank you.
Managing a healthy heart can be simple with a plan. Create permanent changes towards a healthy heart by giving yourself six weeks to incorporate these six steps, and enjoy heart healthy living.
Drs. Jennifer Mieres and Stacey Rosen are cardiologists at Northwell Health. To learn more about their plan, visit HeartSmartMovement.com.
Jennifer Mieres, MD, is one of the leading experts and patient advocates in the fields of cardiovascular disease in women. A graduate of Bennington College and Boston University School of Medicine, she is a Fellow of the American Heart Association (AHA), the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology (ASNC) and in 2009 she served as the first female president of the ASNC. Dr. Mieres is board certified in cardiovascular diseases and nuclear cardiology and is actively involved in clinical cardiovascular research.
Stacey Rosen, MD is the Vice President for the Katz Institute for Women’s Health and oversees the development and coordination of a comprehensive and integrated approach to women’s health services at Northwell Health. Dr. Rosen has been a practicing cardiologist for over 25 years, and was the Associate Chairman of the Department of Cardiology at Long Island Jewish for 12 years, and Director of the Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Program at Northwell Health prior to joining The Katz Institute for Women’s Health in the Center for Equity of Care.