February is National Heart Month and a time to talk seriously about women and heart disease, which is the #1 killer of women, with more than 500,000 deaths annually. Consider these sobering and staggering statistics: One women dies of heart disease every minute. And women of all ages are at risk: Nearly 9,000 women under 45 years of age suffer from a heart attack each year. More women die of heart disease each year than all types of cancer plus other diseases combined, more than 11 times that of breast cancer.
There are many myths about women and heart disease, including that it’s a man’s problem. Since 1984, more women than men have died of heart disease each year. And women are twice as likely as men to die after a heart attack.
It’s up to women to take heart for a healthy life—to understand heart disease, risks, and prevention. Experts estimate that 80 percent of heart disease is preventable. Heart disease is 20-30 years in the making, so young women need to be made aware and educated of the killer disease. Here are five ways you can take charge of your heart’s health today for more tomorrows.
#1 Be Aware
The American Heart Association forecasts that almost one in three women is estimated to die of heart disease or stroke, where as only one in 33 is estimated to die of breast cancer. Know your risk factors, which can include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, family history (women, under the age of 65), and older age (women, over the age of 65). Talk to your healthcare provider about whether you’re a candidate for a Coronary Calcium-Scoring test. Knowing your score can help you understand your risk. Heart scans can be beneficial to people with no symptoms of heart disease, but who have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or family history of heart disease.
#2 Be Determined
It’s worth repeating: 80 percent of heart attacks are preventable with lifestyle modification and risk factor reduction. Commit to change. Don’t smoke, control your weight, take appropriate medication when necessary, get moving. Eat a healthy diet high in veggies, fruits, and proteins and low in sodium; avoid trans fat and consume modest amounts of alcohol.
#3 Be Engaged
Don’t be a bystander in your life—taking action to keep your heart strong can be one of the most precious gifts you give yourself. Practice lifestyle modification. See your provider regularly. And indulge yourself—nibble on dark chocolate and sip on red wine (unless you’re pregnant) or sparkling grape juice. In moderation, your heart will thank you.
#4 Be Grateful
This is just what your heart ordered: A happy life well-lived. Laugh more, dance more, experience the world around you. Keep a gratitude journal—focus on the positives in life. Surround yourself with people who love you and nurture you. Take me time, relax, recharge, breathe deeply and yes—smell those roses. Gratitude is priceless.
#5 Be a Heart Health Advocate
Spread the word. Be a friend to your BFF, sister, mother, co-worker—tell them about the importance of understanding heart disease, risks, and prevention. Help break the cycle of heart disease that claims women’s lives by educating the women in your life. Remember that a simple commitment to making heart-smart lifestyle changes can help prevent heart disease.
Finally, remember that midwives don’t just care for women during pregnancy. We are women’s health providers at all stages of life and work with women to ensure wellness. I have several women friends and family members who have been challenged by heart disease and ignored early symptoms. Take time for yourself if you have concerns.