by Alex A. Kecskes
American women are four to six times more likely to die of heart disease than of breast cancer. While women often encounter heart problems later in life than men-typically seven or eight years later-once they reach 65, they seem to catch up, making heart disease the leading cause of death among women over 65.
Even more alarming is this: Women are less likely to survive heart attacks than men; worse still, women are at much greater risk of suffering a second heart attack. Some experts believe that women just don't seek or receive treatment as soon as men. Others think the failure to survive is due a woman's smaller heart and blood vessels, which are more easily damaged. But take heart. There are a number of natural pro-active steps you can take to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Doctor Kam S. Woo, a professor and consultant cardiologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that villagers in Pan Yu, a town in Guangdong Province in southern China had one of the lowest rates of heart disease in the world. He concludes this may be due in part to the traditional Chinese diet of vegetables, rice, and green tea. He believes people should eat more fruits and vegetables, emphasize plant proteins and eat less dairy products and meat. He also suggests adopting a Chinese way of cooking, which includes steaming instead of deep-frying foods in oil.
Avoid the saturated fats found in meats and coconut oil. Check food labels for fat calories. Follow heart-healthy recipes, and don't be shy about asking for low-fat dishes when eating out. Many restaurants now serve heart-healthy dishes. At the store, look for snack chips without hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Try natural peanut butter instead of the pasty, hydrogenated kind. Replace unhealthy fats with healthy fats like olive, canola, or peanut oil. Use butter very sparingly or use butter flavoring. Finally, for those who've heard that a glass of wine may be beneficial, studies suggest drinking grape juice can have the same effect as consuming wine.
More than half of the heart attacks in women under 50 are related to smoking. Quitting can lower your risk of heart attack by one third in just two years. If you smoke and use birth control pills, you're at even greater risk. There are many products and programs to help you quit smoking. Talk to your doctor about the best way to quit smoking. Breathing second hand smoke can also affect your heart and lungs. If you live with a smoker, encourage them to quit.
If you have high blood pressure, consult your doctor on ways to control it. Your doctor may recommend regular exercise, losing weight, and eating a healthy diet to help control high blood pressure. Cutting down on salt can also help. As for cholesterol, ask your doctor to check it and, if it's at unhealthy levels, how best to manage it.
Many women go from bed to car to computer desk, and then back to car to couch and to bed-with very little exercise in between. Keep in mind, like any other muscle in your body, your heart needs regular exercise to work properly. So do your heart a favor and do some brisk walking, swimming, jogging, or biking. With today's over abundance of fitness equipment and programs, you have no excuse. If you find exercise boring, find an exercise partner. Jog with them or take your dog for a walk. Try to exercise at least 30 to 60 minutes, 4 to 6 times a week. Consult your doctor before beginning any exercise program. If you're overweight, be sure to talk to your doctor about a safe and effective way to lose weight.
- American Heart Association
- Women's Heart Foundation
- National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease