Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. And while nearly the same number of women die from heart disease every year as men, many Americans still mistakenly perceive heart problems as a man's disease.
In fact, only half of women surveyed by the American Heart Association correctly identified heart disease and heart attacks as the leading cause of death among women. If women don’t consider themselves at risk, they may ignore early warning signs and end up at even greater risk for developing serious heart disease.
But women do have one advantage over men when it comes to heart disease. Because of the protective effects of naturally-occurring estrogen, women typically develop cardiovascular disease 10 years later than men. Women can take advantage of those extra years to change the risk factors that can be controlled. Here are some important ways for women to reduce their risk of heart disease:
Don’t use tobacco and steer clear of secondhand smoke
If you are a smoker, quit now. Studies show that smoking is 25 percent more likely to lead to heart disease in women than in men. Free help to quit is available through QuitPlan.
Watch your waist
Balance the calories you take in with the calories burned by physical activity. Check out tips for good nutrition on the Dakota County website.
Aim for at least 30 to 60 minutes of physical activity daily. Exercise—in any form—will lower your blood pressure, reduce stress and boost your “good” cholesterol. Get started by participating in a walking program like Dakota County’s Simple Steps.
Use pepper, not salt
Reduce sodium in your diet to help keep your blood pressure at 120/80 mmHg or below. As women age, they become more salt-sensitive. If you already have high blood pressure (140/90 mmHg), take all your medications as prescribed.
Cut back on saturated and trans-fats
These fats, found in packaged foods such as cookies and potato chips, contribute to high cholesterol, which can cause fatty plaques that can clog arteries leading to risk of heart attack. Recent studies found that women with a large amount of plaque build-up are at significantly greater risk for heart attack than men. Find out more about oils and fats from the American Heart Association.
Eat colorful foods
Fruits and vegetables such as spinach, carrots, peaches and berries are high in antioxidants and fiber. Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for tasty recipes and ideas.
Eat more fish and lean meats
Choose tuna, salmon and trout for healthy omega-3 fats. If you want to eat red meat, choose a lean cut.
Know the signs of a heart attack
While pressure, tightness, and squeezing in the chest are all telltale signs of heart attack in men, many women don’t know they could have a heart attack without having any of those classic symptoms. A woman having a heart attack is more likely to feel symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and back or jaw pain. Women often don’t think they’re having a heart attack and waste critical time before calling an ambulance.
We’re working to reduce chronic disease
Dakota County Public Health works with schools, worksites and community groups to create healthier food options and promote physical activity. Visit our website for more information about nutrition and physical activity, including tips for parents to help children eat healthier foods and be more active.