As a cardiologist at Mount Auburn Hospital for 25 years; a mother of three daughters; and a family history of heart disease, Marion Hogan, M.D., wants women to know how crucial it is for them to take control of their heart health.
“Heart disease doesn’t discriminate—whether you’re 30 or 80, women of all ages can develop it,” she says. “To add to the urgency, heart disease is the leading cause of death in American women.”
Take action for a healthy heart
Your everyday actions—or lack of action—have a tremendous impact on your heart health. But, improving your lifestyle can prevent multiple conditions and stop the negative impact on your heart. Below are seven steps you can take control of your heart health:
- Manage your blood pressure – Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Lowering sodium intake; limiting alcohol; not smoking; managing stress; getting routine exercise and maintaining a healthy weight can help women keep their blood pressure in the normal range.
- Get active – Thirty minutes of moderate physical activity, five days a week is the best way to not only protect your heart, but also your quality of life. Activities like brisk walking are enough to get your heart rate up. You can even split the 30 minutes up and spread out your exercise throughout the day.
- Eat a healthy diet – A diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables; unrefined, fiber-rich whole-grains; fish; and limited saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt and added sugars are the best guidelines for heart health. This balance stimulates new cell growth; fuels your body with energy; and helps fight and prevent diseases, like heart disease.
- Control your cholesterol – Safe overall cholesterol levels are below 200 mg/dL. While your body makes about 75 percent of the cholesterol that is in your blood, 25 percent comes from the food you eat. That’s why eating a balanced diet that is low in cholesterol, trans fats and saturated fats; and high in fiber is necessary to prevent blocked arteries. Routine cholesterol screenings, exercise and maintaining a healthy weight also help you keep your arteries healthy.
- Maintain a healthy weight – Excess weight contributes to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, all of which adversely affect your heart. A healthy Body Mass Index (BMI) is below 25. If your BMI is above 30, you are at serious risk for heart disease. Mount Auburn Hospital’s Weight Management Center has both surgical and non-surgical programs that are highly effective at helping patients reach their healthy weight loss goals.
- Control blood-sugar levels – Diabetes can increase your risk for heart disease, even when it is controlled. Limiting simple sugars, like soda and sweets, will help keep your blood sugar at normal levels. If you have diabetes, taking your medications or insulin will help. Talk to your doctor to determine if you should be tested for diabetes.
- Don’t smoke – Other than reducing your good cholesterol and reducing the oxygen supply to the heart, smoking damages your entire circulatory system and increases your risk for blood clots. If you smoke, talk with your doctor about how he or she can help you quit.
Get the care you need and deserve
Knowing the signs of a heart attack are just as important as taking action to keep your heart healthy. Symptoms may include:
- Pressure, fullness or squeezing in your chest that last more than a few minutes, or comes and goes
- Discomfort in one or both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Cold sweats, nausea or lightheadedness
The signs can vary from woman to woman, but if you experience any of these signs, Dr. Hogan urges you to seek medical care immediately.
Find a primary care physician who will help you keep your heart healthy. Call (617) 499-5094.