7 Ways Women Can Protect Their Hearts

Women are known for operating out of their hearts. But as you get into the menopause years, your heart becomes even more "tender." Heart disease looks different in women than it does in men, and there are things you can do early in the game to protect your heart and keep it ticking through menopause and beyond. Heart health is a matter of knowing the genetic hand you've been dealt, and learning how to play it for a longer, stronger life.

1
Make a "State of the Heart" Appointment with Your Medical Provider

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You should know your blood pressure and cholesterol results. Make an appointment to get these measured, and once you know your numbers, talk to your doctor about how to improve them or maintain them in a “safe” range. Prevention trumps disease every time, and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommends preventive services to help you manage your heart disease risk. Getting a baseline reading of your heart health starts you our on a "can do" path. Family physicians women and heart disease

2
Go for a Hike

Or walk around the block. Or roust the dog off the couch and go to a park. Moving keeps your circulatory system working and improving. 30 minutes of walking on most days of the week will steadily decrease your risk for cardiac disease. But how much exercise do you need? It's hard to quantify how much exercise you need to reduce your risk the most, but the bottom line is that every bit helps, and the more you do, the lower your risk.

3
Quit Smoking

The most important thing you can do to protect your heart is to quit smoking. If you are a longtime smoker, this may be the hardest thing you ever do. Smoking is not just a habit, it is an addiction and you will need support to quit successfully. Prepare for success in quitting smoking and get the support you need to make it stick.

4
Make Small Changes Toward a Heart Healthy Diet

You can make simple changes one at a time that will transform your diet into one that is much more heart healthy. Try adding two fresh fruits to your diet, switching to whole grains, buy only low-fat dairy products, leave the salt shaker off the table, put the deep fryer away and rarely treat yourself to fast food. If you make even one change a month and then stick with it, by the time a year is up you are eating for a strong heart. The FDA has suggestions for heart healthy eating that will help you reduce your risk.

5
Chill -- Stressin' Messes with Your Heart

Stress is a fact of life. It helps you in the short term to gear up and manage a challenge like avoiding a car accident or doing well on a job interview, but if it lasts for weeks or months it wears away on your heart. If your current life situation is stressing you out, or if you are in a high-pressure job, find ways to stay calm in the midst of the chaos and your heart will bear up better. The American Heart Association agrees that stress will take a toll on your heart. Take a deep breath and learn some stress management techniques. If you make them a habit they will help you weather unexpected spikes on the "stress-o-meter."

6
Play Detective -- Look into Your Family History

Although you can't change your family history, it helps to know the genetic hand you've been dealt. There are lots of ways to play that hand, and it helps to know whether your risks are higher than most, or whether normal vigilance is enough. If high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or early heart attacks run in your family, be sure to keep up on your own health status so you and your medical provider can nip those risks in the bud. A woman's family history of heart disease can set the stage for trouble, so find out whether cardiovascular risk has been handed down to you.

7
Learn the Symptoms of Heart Disease in Women

When women have heart disease their symptoms are often different from men's. Learn some of the ways that men's and women's heart disease is different. Remind your women friends that they should take their symptoms seriously, even if they think it is "just" heartburn, anxiety or their gall bladder. Let a trained medical provider help you sort out these symptoms if you have them.

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