It’s a myth that cardiovascular disease just affects men. The reality is that cardiovascular disease in women is the leading cause of death and disability in US women today, and black women are at higher risk than white women.
Major risk factors for all women include:
- high blood pressure
However, if you’re diet is high in fat and salt, and low on exercise and nutrition, you also increase your risk factors exponentially. The good news is that with proper diet and exercise, heart disease is preventable.
For women considering hormone replacement therapy (HRL) or currently undergoing HRL, it has been found, in certain circumstances, to protect against heart disease if:
- HRL is started in women newly entering menopause and not women whose menopause is a long time ongoing.
- HRL treatment is not used for longer than 5 to 7 years.
A heart healthy diet is a critical component of cardiovascular disease prevention. To begin a more heart health eating plan, you need to think natural, real and whole. Make sure you’re getting:
- a variety of fruits and vegetables in all colors of the rainbow–more than 5 servings a day
- whole grains instead of processed and bleached flours, rices and pasta
- low-fat or nonfat dairy products
- seeds and nuts high in Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids
- lean proteins
- a glass of red wine
- fresh fish
Also, think about portion control with your diet. Consider eating 5 to 6 smaller, more nutritious meals a day instead of 3 large meals.
To reverse the damage of an unhealthy diet and replace it with a heart healthy lifestyle, you need to evaluate what you are currently eating, and eliminate or reduce the items that are unhealthy. It’s often helpful to keep a food journal of everything you eat for a full week. How much of the following unhealthy choices do you see in your journal?:
- processed foods high in saturated or trans fats
- full fat dairy products
- lots of red meat
- fried foods
- high amounts of salt
- high amounts of sugar
- white flour pastas, rices and noodles
Take it an item at a time, instead of all at once, and start making healthy substitutes for the unhealthy items in your food journal.
Physical exercise is a key component to overall good health. So, it’s not surprising that it plays such an important role in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. Regular exercise improves lung and heart function, reduces stress and increases metabolism–as well as increasing weight loss. To ensure your exercise program is helping you lose weight, evaluate your current program to make sure you’re:
- engaging in 60 to 90 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise daily.
- combining strength training exercise with cardiovascular exercise throughout your week.
- staying hydrated during exercise.
- choosing exercises that you enjoy.
- breaking workouts into shorter periods throughout the day to reach a full 60 minutes if necessary.
To maintain your weight once you’ve achieved your heart health goal, make sure you’re:
- engaging in at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise 5 days a week.
- choosing a healthy, high protein snack before intense workouts to give you the energy for a higher intensity workout.
- getting both cardio and strength training session each week.
As a woman, it’s crucial to take control of your health now to help prevent cardiovascular disease in the future.