Heart Healthy Tips for Women at Every Age!
By Alicia Schwartz, RN at VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans
HEALTH– If you’re surprised to hear that heart disease kills more American women every year than all types of cancer combined, you are not alone. Heart disease is the number one killer in women – with a disproportionate effect on African American women – and yet only 47 percent of women are aware of this.
Surprised? Here are some more unsettling facts, courtesy of the Women’s Heart Foundation and American Heart Association:
*Every year, heart attacks kill six times as many women as breast cancer.
*Women with diabetes are twice as at risk of heart attack as non-diabetic women.
*49 percent of African American women age 20 and older have heart disease.
*Only 1 out of 5 African American women believes she is personally at risk.
*Cardiovascular diseases kill nearly 500,000 African-American women annually.
*It’s no secret that for women age 65 and up, these risk factors abound. As you age, so do your blood vessels, which become less flexible and more difficult for blood to readily, move through them every day.
As a Registered Nurse Care Coordinator with VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans, I work with elderly patients – many of whom are frail and homebound – who are diagnosed with heart disease. While some risk factors, such as family history, menopause, and age are inescapable, others can be avoided with a few lifestyle changes. In honor of Heart Health Month, here are some tips for women of all ages to protect their hearts during the month of February – and all year long!
Close, But No Cigar: Think you can continue smoking and stay heart healthy? Think again: Smoking increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, including stroke – and, yes – heart disease. Even second-hand smoke can increase your risk, and this risk factor is greater for women than for men. Your risk of heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker in just one year after quitting.
Journal Every Kernel: Watching what you eat – specifically, keeping high fats, sugar, and salt-laden treats at bay – can help prevent weight gain and keep cholesterol levels under control. Be sure to read food labels to check the amount of sodium in packaged foods. My colleague Yael Reich, RN, Certified Diabetes Educator with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, suggests keeping a food journal, which is a simple way for you to hold yourself accountable to your healthy eating goals. For example, writing down the content on your food labels – e.g. salt content levels – or how many servings of fruits and vegetables you have each day helps you to manage and plan your diet more effectively. This practice is especially important for African American women, who may be more sensitive to the effects of salt.
Stairway to Heart Health: For optimum heart health, the American Heart Association recommends thirty minutes of moderate to dynamic aerobic exercise on most days of the week in order to improve heart and lung fitness and to lower risk factors for heart disease. Aerobic exercise opportunities are limitless: Go for a walk after a large meal, skip the elevator and take the stairs to pick up the mail, or sweat it out in a Zumba class – your heart will thank you for it later! For my patients with limited mobility, I suggest doing chair exercises while watching TV, or riding a stationary bike.
Alicia Schwartz is an RN and Care Coordinator with VNSNY CHOICE Health Plans, affiliated with of The Visiting Nurse Service of New York, the largest not-for-profit home- and community-based health care agency in the country. For more information please visit www.vnsnychoice.org or call 1-888-867-6555.