This month is all about hearts—the one beating inside your chest and that special valentine that can make the former go pitter-pat. In many ways the two are alike, connected--they both need a little tender loving care.
Matters of the Heart
Just as human relationships need loving care and attention to flourish, your physical heart needs a little TLC too. Give it a healthy diet, a little exercise, and minimal toxins (smoking and alcohol) and you have a good chance of a long and happy life together. Abuse it or take it for granted, and it may not stand the test of time. In matters of the heart, there’s good news and bad news for Americans. While heart disease is still the leading cause of death among men and women, mortality rates are falling due to better diagnosis and treatment. Statin drugs have had a significant impact on reducing high cholesterol --one of the biggest risk factors for heart disease.
However, women do lag behind men in positive outcomes. It has only been in recent years that the medical community realized that heart disease in women is different than men in virtually every aspect—from symptoms and diagnosis to treatment options. Hopefully continued research and awareness of these differences will increase women’s chances of surviving a cardiac event.
It’s high time to banish the damaging myth that heart disease is a man’s illness. Heart disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined.
Another trend that has everyone in the medical community worried is the staggering rise in obesity among children and adults. Obesity often brings with it high cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressure, and inactivity--all risk factors for heart disease. In fact, many overweight teenagers are already showing signs of heart disease decades before they typically appear. As a result, for the first time in history, today’s children might not outlive their parents.
Whether you are a man or a woman, young or old, heart disease is almost entirely preventable. Genetics play only a very minor role for most people. Preventable risk factors are:
- High cholesterol and triglycerides
- High blood pressure
- Obesity (Linked to other risk factors: high cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressure and diabetes)
- Sedentary lifestyle and poor diet
- Excessive alcohol
You can virtually eliminate these risk factors by:
- Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein but low in saturated fat, cholesterol and salt. Consume heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids from: fish, avocados, nuts and seeds regularly.
- Maintaining a healthy weight as determined by your body mass index or measuring your waist to hip ratio.
- Engaging in moderate-intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
- Not smoking.
- Limiting alcohol use as too much can cause high blood pressure.
This February, take the messages of Heart Month and Valentine’s Day to heart and practice a little TLC 365 days a year. Read more about the top differences between men and women for heart health here.
American Heart Association
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Science in Society