Melissa, Donna and Tamara, after engaging in some heart-healthy exercise.

This month I celebrate Go Red For Women, a campaign for heart health by American Heart Association. I write about this public health awareness effort in memory of my dad, and in honor of my mom. Every minute in America, a woman dies from a heart attack, stroke or another form of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), most of these deaths are preventable.

Every minute in America, a woman dies from a heart attack, stroke or another form of cardiovascular disease. …most of these deaths are preventable.

Women’s heart symptoms can be different than men’s. Women are more effected by a “silent” heart attack, which has unrecognizable symptoms like indigestion or flu-like symptoms. Even strained chest or back muscles can be signs of a heart attack in women. Symptoms of anxiety and fatigue should not be ignored. Blood flow to the heart muscle may impaired during a heart attack, and can lead to scarring and damage to the myocardium or heart muscle, leading to additional cardiac dysfunction. Listen to your body and discuss any unusual symptoms with your doctor. Your doctor should also be aware of any family history of heart disease since it is an important risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

The American Heart Association lists seven ways to help control your risk of heart and vascular disease:

Get Active. Be sure to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five days per week.
Reduce Cholesterol. Too much “bad” cholesterol (LDLs) can increase plaques in your vascular system and increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.
Eat Better. A 2000 calorie diet should include 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily, 3.5 ounces of oily fish per week (think salmon), three 10 ounce servings of fiber-rich whole grains daily, four servings of nuts, legumes or seeds weekly, and no more than seven percent of total daily calories from saturated fats. Restricting salt, sugar and processed meats is also recommended.
Manage Blood Pressure. High blood pressure is a major risk factor in cardiovascular disease. Decreasing stress, eating a healthy diet and taking medications can be helpful in reducing hypertension.
Lose Weight. Losing five to ten pounds can produce a dramatic effect on blood pressure. Your healthcare provider can help you determine if you need to lose weight based on body mass index.
Reduce Blood Sugar. Per AHA guidelines, your fasting blood sugar should be below 100. Higher readings may indicate a diabetic condition that significantly increases you risk of heart disease. Decreasing simple sugar intake can be helpful in reducing blood sugar. READ LABELS to identify sugars hidden in foods.
Stop Smoking. Smoking damages your entire circulatory system, increasing risk of heart and vascular disease.

I am keenly aware of the importance of cardiovascular health since my dad died at the age of 44 from heart disease. I believe strongly in the importance of regular exercise and healthy eating. As a physical therapist, I work daily with my patients in treatment that enables them to increase activity to keep a healthy and happy heart. So get out there and walk, run, spin, ski or hike often and remember: your heart depends on it.

~ Donna Lannan PT

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