By Dr. Jennifer Mieres and Dr. Stacey Rosen
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 of those include: bone health, menopause, and complications during pregnancy. A common risk factor that can occur more in African-American, Hispanic, or South Asian women is high blood pressure, which can put women at a greater risk.
However, it’s not all bad news. 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.
Like many other women, you may be wondering where to start. 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— including meals and snacks throughout the day. As women get older, our metabolism slows down. 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 level and choose to move every day. You do not have to be a world-class athlete or bodybuilder to get in a good workout. 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 stretch to 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 not to eat foods that have refined sugars, saturated fats, and/or sodium. When you do dine out, order vegetables, fruits, legumes, rice, or starchy vegetables like potatoes.
4. Partner with your doctor. You should not only seek help when you feel sick. Make sure you plan with a doctor with whom you feel comfortable and 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. 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.
What’s step six? Put all of the steps together into one plan. Exercising alone will decrease your risk of heart disease. Replacing a few snacks with healthier options 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.
Drs. Jennifer Mieres and Stacey Rosen are cardiologists at Northwell Health. They are the authors of Heart Smart for Women. To learn more about their plan, visit www.HeartSmartMovement.com.