Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women over the age of 65. In this age group, heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined, and women are four to six times more likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer. Making matters worse, while women have about the same risk of heart attack as men do at age 65, they are less likely to survive, perhaps because they don’t receive treatment as soon as men.
At the Florida Hospital Cardiovascular Institute, we’re committed to changing that. We have the highest volume of women’s cardiology cases in the country, which means our experts can tailor a prevention and treatment plan for women in all stages of heart health. In addition, we have female cardiologists who can see patients either in the clinic or the hospital. We also offer women a cardiac risk assessment so they can get a better sense of their risk of developing heart disease in the future.
Reduce Your Risk
Whether they wish to speak to our specialists or not, there are a few simple lifestyle-related steps women can take to reduce their risk of developing heart disease. These include:
- Don’t smoke: More than half of all heart attacks in women under the age of 50 are related to smoking, and women who quit smoking today will reduce their risk of a heart attack by a third in just two years.
- Control your blood pressure: Treating high blood pressure can reduce a woman’s chance of heart attack and stroke. Lose weight, exercise more, eat healthy and cut down on your sodium intake—these are all steps in the right direction. But if they don’t bring down your blood pressure, your doctor may be able to prescribe medications that will.
- Control your cholesterol level: Diet is the key, though medications may be necessary for some patients as well.
- Be healthy: Extra weight puts extra strain on your heart and arteries, so if you need to, lose a few pounds. Regular exercise will also improve heart health (remember, the heart is a muscle), as will eating a low-fat diet (keep fat calories to 30 percent of your total calorie intake, and avoid saturated fat).
- Take care of diabetes: Patients with diabetes need to regularly exercise, watch their weight and what they eat, and strictly follow their doctor’s orders regarding medications.
- Watch out for chest pain: While chest pain isn’t always caused by heart disease, better safe than sorry—if you’re having chest pain, call your doctor. Also, call your doctor if you experience shortness of breath or nausea that comes on quickly.
- Know your family history: If you have a close family member with heart disease, especially heart disease that developed before age 55 (in men) or 65 (in women), tell your doctor.
It’s worth noting that although once estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) was thought to protect postmenopausal women from heart disease, new research shows that it actually does more harm than good. If you are taking ERT, talk to your doctor about the possible implications for your heart health.
There are several simple steps you can take to make sure you’re leading a heart-healthy lifestyle. Much of it seems like common sense—eat healthy foods and exercise—but in our hectic, fast-paced world, many of us struggle nonetheless. At the same time, we have to remember that heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for women over 65, and the choices women take today will impact their health for years to come.
Below, we offer some easy recommendations for leading a healthier life. Try them out: your heart will thank you.
- Prepare ready-to-eat meals: When you come home from grocery shopping, cut up fruits and veggies and store them in containers. These make for quick and easy snacks.
- Trim the fat: If you see fat on the meat or poultry you’re about to cook, cut it off. Drain off all the fat after browning. Chill stews and soups after they’re cooked so you can remove any hardened fat from the top. In addition, limit your meat intake: Eat no more than six ounces of lean meat, fish or skinless poultry per day.
- Watch your diet: A heart-healthy diet can not only reduce your risk of developing heart disease, but can also increase your chances of survival after a heart attack. Make sure you eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as fish, beans and whole grains. Avoid foods high in sugar and saturated fats, such as biscuits, cakes and pastries.
- Be physically active: Every day, try to get 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise. And be creative. You can exercise while watching TV, or work out when your child is at soccer practice. Walk the dog—it will wear him out and help your heart.
- Know your numbers: Your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels will help you ensure heart health.
- Floss regularly: It may seem strange, but periodontal disease can lead to inflammation in the arteries, which can result in heart disease. See your dentist regularly, and keep your pearly-whites strong and healthy.
- Never shop on an empty stomach: Shop hungry, and you risk buying a bunch of junk. Instead, make a list and stick to it. Read labels and avoid foods that have “sugar” or “high-fructose corn syrup” in the first few ingredients. Shop with your head, not your stomach.
- Keep a journal: Chronicling your food intake will help you keep track of what and how much you’re eating.
- Don’t skip meals: Eat several small meals throughout the day. This helps you avoid hunger and decreases the number of calories you take in. Also, avoid fad diets. Aim to lead a healthy overall lifestyle instead.
- Drink water: You should drink six to eight glasses a day. Avoid sugary drinks such as soda. These calories (and pounds) will sneak up on you.