February is mostly known for Valentine’s Day, but did you know that it is also National Heart Month? Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States for both men and women. According to the American Heart Association, more women actually die from heart disease than men, killing more women than all cancers combined. Therefore, it is especially important for women to know their risks.
Heart disease includes conditions such as cardiovascular disease, in which plaque builds in the arteries causing obstructed blood flow, congestive heart failure, arrhythmias, angina, heart valve problems, heart attack, and stroke. Risk factors for heart disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight or obese, smoking, lack of exercise, and stress. Sometimes these conditions are genetic, so it is important that women know their family history and discuss it with their doctors. However, many times risk factors can be controlled by making healthy lifestyle choices.
Stress, in particular, is sneaky when it comes to heart disease. Many women may seem completely healthy physically, but if they are under too much continuous stress their hearts will suffer. It is important for women to try to do something every day that helps them calm down. Some people like deep breathing or meditation. Others like soothing music or reading a good book. Anything that promotes a relaxed feeling will benefit the heart.
In addition to stress management, healthy lifestyle choices that help to reduce the risk of heart disease include:
-Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats.
-Maintain a healthy weight. Know your Body Mass Index (BMI). Talk to your doctor about what is a healthy weight for you.
-Exercise regularly. Physical activity helps control blood pressure, cholesterol and helps control weight.
-Don’t smoke or quit smoking. A smoker’s risk of heart attack is significantly greater than that of non-smokers.
-Limit alcohol intake. Too much alcohol can increase blood pressure.
This February, while you are celebrating love with those around you, take extra time to give your heart some love. Learn more about the risk factors for heart disease. Learn your family history. Vow to make at least one lifestyle change that will benefit your ticker and to practice stress management every day. As women in the military lifestyle, we have an obligation to take care of ourselves for our families, for our soldiers, and for our own well-being.
To find out more about women and heart disease, visit the American Heart Association’s website at www.heart.org.