Go Red for Women on February 7th
By Ranjita Sengupta, M.D., FACC, board-certified Cardiologist at Somerset Medical Center
There is no color more empowering for women than red; it’s vibrant, confident and most importantly, the color of your heart. Because of this, there is no greater symbol to represent the fight against a disease that claims the lives of nearly 500,000 American women each year: heart disease. February 7th will mark The American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s 11th annual National Wear Red Day®, in effort to raise awareness and take a stand against heart disease by asking you to wear red.
Heart disease is known as the “silent” killer in women, because of its lack of noticeable symptoms. It is caused by plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries, or atherosclerosis. As the plaque builds up, the arteries narrow, making it more difficult for blood to flow, creating a risk for heart attack or stroke. Though hard to believe, heart disease takes the lives of more women each year than all cancers combined.
This harmful disease does not bypass the young and it does not discriminate against age, overall health, or genetic history. Though these factors are those that often cannot be controlled, making even the smallest changes to your lifestyle can improve your heart health and suppress risk factors by up to 80%. Now it’s your turn to take action and improve your heart health. By following these tips, you can start building a stronger, more efficient heart today.
- Know Your Numbers. You can do this by scheduling regular health screenings. It is important to know your HDL (“Happy” cholesterol, Higher is better) cholesterol, LDL (“Lousy” cholesterol, Lower is better) cholesterol, total cholesterol, blood pressure, weight, and body mass index (BMI) numbers. It is also important to target your triglycerides by aiming for a level of 150 or lower. Monitoring these numbers and taking action when necessary is essential to good heart health.
- Quit Smoking. This is one of the most controllable risk factors for heart disease. Chemicals in tobacco and the nicotine in cigarette smoke can damage your heart and blood vessels leading to atherosclerosis, narrowing of the arteries. The good news is, no matter how long or how much you smoked, you can improve your heart health within minutes of quitting and after one year, cut your risk in half.
- Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet. Consuming a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein greatly reduces your risk for heart disease. It is also important to limit certain fats, such as saturated fat and trans-fat, which increase the risk of coronary artery disease by raising blood cholesterol levels. Stay clear of red meat, fried food, bakery products, packaged snacks and margarine. Omega-3 fatty acids, however, may decrease your risk of heart attack and lower blood pressure. Try small amounts of walnuts, flaxseed oil, soybean oil or fish such as salmon to reap the benefits.
- Reduce Salt Intake. High blood pressure is a major contributor to heart disease. By reducing your salt intake, you can help keep your blood pressure at a safer level. You can do this simply by cooking with herbs instead of using salt and reading food labels to see how much salt is in prepared foods. It is good to aim for less than 2 grams of salt per day.
- Exercise Daily. Combining a healthy lifestyle with daily exercise can reduce your risk of heart disease significantly. Regular physical activity can help reduce stress and prevent developing other conditions that may put a strain on your heart. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of moderately intense physical activity most days of the week. You can achieve this by doing a variety of things ranging from weight training and cardio in the gym, to gardening or taking your dog for a walk.
- De-stress. Stress raises blood pressure, heart rate, and levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Take time each day to disconnect from the daily news cycle, emails and your cell phone. Being constantly connected makes it difficult to leave your stressors outside the home.
- Get More Sleep. Research shows that people who do not get enough sleep are more than twice as likely as others to die of heart disease. People who sleep less than seven hours per night tend to have higher blood pressure and higher levels of cortisol, making arteries more susceptible to plague buildup. Refrain from drinking caffeine after noon, and develop a stress-free routine before bed such as taking a bath, listening to soft music or reading.
By adjusting your lifestyle to incorporate healthier choices and requesting regular screenings from your doctor, you could dramatically decrease your risk of developing heart disease. If you think you may be at risk for heart disease, contact your physician or attend cholesterol and blood pressure screening by visiting http://bit.ly/1dSEGpf. This February, I encourage you to bring attention to this deadly condition, take action, and wear red.