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February, the perfect time to be near and dear to your heart!

I speak about lifestyle and heart healthy habits on a daily basis when seeing women in my Practice.    I am looking out for the #1 killer that sieges the lives of American women each year.  Can you guess?  Heart disease.  Now is the time to remind us women to be hearty healthy.  You may see women wearing lots of red during the month of February, so break out your red wardrobe and wear it proudly to raise awareness.

We all heard about the ways to live a healthy life, but have we ever learned to how to actually do it?  The culture and lifestyle of an American is fast…fast-paced, fast-food and we certainly are very spoiled in this nation to have most everything at our fingertips…even the remote!  Our lifestyle however has trade-offs and one unfortunate trade-off is our health.  A life without activity, wholesome food and rest leads to obesity, a weakened heart and body and feeling as if you could easily fall flat out.  We do not have to accept this as Americans….Heart disease is a PREVENTABLE killer, but we have to make a mindful effort to stop it in its tracks.

Living heart healthy takes effort and planning, otherwise we are forced to choose what is quickest and easiest which most often is not healthy.  So you may be thinking, stop!  What is heart disease anyway?  How could something I cannot see take my life?  It starts with something called atherosclerosis, which is a hardening of the arteries.  An artery is what gives you your pulse that you can easily feel in your neck or wrist.  They are all over your body.  Atherosclerosis develops when arteries that supply blood to the heart are clogged by plaque buildup from cholesterol.  Cholesterol comes from the food we eat.  A heart attack happens when an artery is blocked by cholesterol, a road block if you can imagine that cuts off the heart’s oxygen supply.  When this happen, your heart muscles die and you perceive this as a heart attack.

So how do you know if you are at risk for this killer called Heart Disease?  There are certain factors that increase a person’s risk of heart disease. Some of these risk factors, such as age, cannot be changed. Other factors, such as one’s cholesterol levels, can be changed.  Knowing what your risks are will tell you how much danger you could find yourself confronting one day.  The risk of heart disease is additive, meaning your risk grows as the number of risk factors increases.

A woman’s risk of heart disease is higher if she:

  • Is aged 55 years or older
  • Has a family history of heart disease or heart attack
  • Has a high total cholesterol or high LDL level
  • Has high blood pressure
  • Smokes cigarettes
  • Does not exercise regularly
  • Is obese
  • Has diabetes
  • Having an apple-shaped physique versus pear-shape

There is a time in a woman’s life where she is in most danger of heart disease in my opinion – Menopause.  Estrogen protects our ovaries and bones up until about age 50 and therefore it is unusual to have an issue in this area prior to reaching menopause.  This is why we see heart disease earlier in men than women…thanks to our ovaries!  Well, sadly time catches up with us.  The rate of heart disease increases with age and after menopause. Some women who have reached menopause have used hormone therapy (HT) to protect against heart disease. Today, HT is no longer recommended for this protection.  Hormones are good and safe for reasons like hot flashes, night sweats or vaginal dryness but it does NOT prevent heart disease.  Talk with your doctor about HT and menopause. He or she can advise you about the benefits and risks for you.

Bottom line ladies, I challenge you to take charge of your health and live your lives daily in a heart healthy way.  We are not perfect and life happens.  Try to be as good to your bodies in the best way you can.  The first step should be assuring regular exercise.  I personally have to get up and exercise before I start my day.  I do this so that nothing stands in the way and no excuses to be made.  Choose your exercise regimen and stick to it as diligently as you do your family and work.  It is a non-negotiable part of your life.  Think of it as a must to stay strong and be around for your family and friends as long as you can.  If you do not know where to start, talk with your healthcare provider to sort out how you can make it work.  If you do not have someone, find one.  We are all happy to help in any way.

Resources cited for this article:  American Heart Association, American College of Obstetrician Gynecologists and CDC Center for Disease Control.