Prevent the #1 Killer of Women: Take Care of Your Heart Now

Heart disease is the #1 killer of women. Even if you’re just approaching 30 did you know that 88,000 women younger than age 64 have heart attacks every year? The statistics are unnerving.

Every year, 1 in 3 women who dies has heart disease (cardiovascular) to blame (much more when you add in related causes including stroke and hypertensive kidney failure, and even more when you factor in those deaths related to your aging arteries. After all, heart disease is really just a form of aging of your arteries. That’s more than all forms of cancer combined!

Fortunately, there’s a ton you can do to keep your heart looking (and acting) young (yes, hearts look wrinkled, spotted and have fat where it shouldn’t be when they get old, but you don’t have to have a wrinkled, spotted or fatty heart at any time).

While there have been significant improvements in heart health for men, research shows women aren’t faring as well. So let’s get that straight right now: If you feel an elephant on your chest (and there isn’t one there) get to an emergency department via 911 immediately! Just remember “ED via 911.” Unexplained pain in your neck, jaw, or inner arms, and you have nausea, shortness of breath, or tiredness, or any of these all require the same response: “ED via 911.”

Women often just feel exhausted—you probably do anyway—but this is an exhaustion that seems more severe. Don’t deny it—that kills: Go “ED via 911.”


Forever Young at Heart

Now that you know what to do when symptoms strike, learn how to keep those symptoms away—now and hopefully forever.

Cut down on sugar: Your waist size might go down and so will your chances of heart disease. Excess sugar in the blood stream damages the grout between the tile-like cells lining your arteries and increases inflammation all over your body. Eating less sugar protects those important areas inside your blood vessels. And—bonus!—it slows down the aging of your skin, and decreases wrinkles.

Heart disease isn’t just about your heart. The aging of your arteries affects your whole cardiovascular system, which is all the blood vessels running into and out of your heart, and all over your body. Your arteries begin to age when plaque builds up along their walls, reducing blood flow to and from your heart, and every organ in your body, including your brain, sexual organs, and yes, your skin too.

As those passageways narrow, ruptures of the plaque and blood clots are more likely to form, blocking blood completely and leading to heart attack or stroke.

Other problems include heart failure, in which your heart still pumps but not effectively, creating an arrhythmia or abnormal beating of the heart (too fast, too slow, or irregularly). You can also develop problems with the valves between your heart’s 4 chambers.

90% percent of women have at least 1 of the risk factors for heart disease. But don’t lose heart: You can do something about each and every one of them! Whether you know you’re at high risk or not, or don’t know at all, you can take steps now to protect your heart.

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The most important steps to avoid heart disease:

Learn a Stress Management Technique: The greatest ager of arteries is unmanaged stress. Find a way that works for you to manage stress, such as meditation, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, yoga and/or having a buddy to regularly talk through problems with. If you manage your reaction to the otherwise stressful events, they will hardly age your arteries.

Know and maintain your blood pressure at or about 115/75: High Blood Pressure (aka hypertension) makes your heart work harder and damages your blood vessels.

Stop smoking: This is an easy one: If you smoke, quit. Now. Smoking quadruples your chances of getting heart disease, and the effects are worse for women than men—especially if you take birth control pills. Cigarette smoking damages blood vessels. Start a smoking cessation program and quit for good.

Get moving: If you’re a gym addict, you’re doing more than burning crazy calories and toning your legs. You’re also getting a great cardiovascular workout. With every sweat session, you’re helping to lower both the top systolic and bottom diastolic numbers of your blood pressure.

But you don’t need to be an addict. Regular moderate physical activity like walking can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by 25-40%. Getting your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes every day mitigates a busload of risk factors including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and diabetes. The best program: Walk 10,000 steps a day (yes, you need a pedometer, and usually a buddy), 30 minutes of weight lifting or resistance exercise a week, and 20 minutes of cardio 3 times a week. Start slowly and build up.


Avoid the 5 Food Felons: Avoid these foods as if they’re poison—they are:

  1. and 2. Simple sugars and syrups. This includes brown sugar, dextrose, corn sweetener, fructose (as in high-fructose corn syrup), glucose, corn syrup, honey, invert sugar, maltose, lactose, malt syrup, molasses, evaporated cane sugar, raw sugar, and sucrose. Keep a little table sugar, honey and maple syrup handy, because you’ll use some for recipes.
  2. Saturated Fat. This includes most four-legged animal fat, milk fat, butter or lard, and tropical oils, such as palm and coconut.
  3. Trans Fat. This includes partially hydrogenated fats, vegetable oil blends that are hydrogenated, and many margarines and cooking blends. (If you must, use cholesterol-fighting sterol spreads such as Promise and Benecol.)
  4. Enriched flours and all flours other than 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat. This includes enriched white flour, semolina, durum wheat, and any of the acronyms for flour that is not whole wheat—they should not be in your kitchen.

Add some great foods: Salmon and ocean trout, cooked tomatoes, red wine, walnuts and a little chocolate. You’re providing your body with omega-3 fatty acids from the salmon, ocean trout and walnuts (12 halves a day also decreases weight in several studies) that reduce the levels of triglycerides in your blood that are a big cause of arterial plaque buildup. Salmon and ocean trout are the only fish in North America consistently with the active omega 3’s and DHA for your brain and eyes. 3 portions of wild salmon a week, or 900 mg of DHA in supplements a day, also reduces your blood pressure.

About an ounce a day of dark chocolate (70%+ cacao, no milk fat, low sugar) may be as effective as the most common antihypertensive medications. One 12-ouce bottle of beer or 4-ounce glass of wine, or a drink with a single shot each night is a prescription for lasting heart health, as long as you don’t have a risk of addiction in you or your family.

Cooked tomatoes or tomato products or extracts in any form make your blood vessels and heart younger by lowering your blood pressure and risk of plaque formation.

You can keep your heart young—and we know of nothing more important. Taking care of you comes first so you’ll have the energy to take care of those you love.


Read: Tips on Finding the Best Healthcare Provider for Your Pregnancy


The Association of Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) promotes the health of women and newborns.

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