Heart disease facts are chilling. The fact is heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year. While an alarming statistic, what is also true is the fact that more than ¾ of these heart related deaths are preventable with better education and easy to implement lifestyle changes.
Today nearly 44 million American women are living with some form of heart disease and though overall death rates from heart disease have declined over the last two decades, the numbers show that women’s cardiac deaths continue to surpass men’s.
Part of the problem is perception. Heart disease has always been viewed as a men’s disease, leaving women’s heart health issues to fall through the cracks. Misconceptions perpetrated by lack of information, and misdiagnosis, along with the tendency to put the health issues of others ahead of their own, has left women vulnerable and at risk.
The time to change the narrative is now, says the American Heart Association (AHA) which, with its “Go Red for Women” campaign, has designated February American Heart Health month. The mission is to raise awareness about heart disease in women, provide enlightenment, and empowerment, and ultimately, save lives.
What Can We Do to Promote Healthy Hearts?
First and foremost, it’s critical that every woman educate herself, her friends and her family about the risks of heart disease. Engage with your health provider to discuss risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and family history.
Now comes the part that involves getting up off the couch to head toward the gym—not the fridge. A heart healthy diet combined with a regular exercise program is the best gift you can give your heart.
Here are the exercise parameters the AHA recommends to maintain overall cardiovascular health:
At least 30 minutes of moderate to intense aerobic activity at least 5 days per week, or 25 minutes of more vigorous exercise 3 days a week.
A combination of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity, plus moderate to high intensity weight training at least two days per week would be even better.
An average of 40 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobics will positively impact blood pressure and cholesterol numbers.
Get Moving & Exercise
There is a reason the AHA insists we exercise. Regular aerobics help control blood pressure, reduce stress and depression, improve cholesterol levels, promote weight loss, lower blood sugar levels, increase muscle mass and bone strength.
In other words, if you love your heart, you will choose your favorite aerobic exercise and make it a high priority in your life.
Walking is numero uno on the heart health hit parade as it is a great way to exercise large muscles in a continuous rhythmic manner. No other exercise can be integrated into your day as safely and easily as a good walk. Make it a habit at the gym to consistently hop on the treadmill. You can watch your favorite show on your iPad while loving your heart. Other easy ways to get your steps in: park a little further from the store when you shop, try walking around the block while your kids are at their dance class or sports practice or grab a friend and create a route around the neighborhood. Set yourself a reminder to take a walk on your lunch break and remember to take the stairs when you can!
Climbing stairs at home or on the stairmaster at the gym is another great way to get to your target heart rate which is between 50% and 85% of your maximum heart rate. (To find your maximum heart rate subtract your age from 220). If you don’t feel like measuring your pulse, aim for a pace that allows you to comfortably carry on a conversation without being too out of breath and you will most likely be within your desired range.
Hit the road on an actual or stationary bike and pedal your way to a strong and healthy heart. The pumping motion of the large muscles in your legs is a great way to get the cardiac juices flowing.
Swimming laps in the pool is just what the cardiologist ordered. It is one of the best aerobic exercises available and 2 and ½ hours per week will give you all the aerobic activity you need.
The elliptical machine and arc trainer are two of the gym’s most effective aerobic workout tools. Working out both lower and upper body gets the blood flowing from head to toe.
Dance your way to heart health at your favorite club or with your gym friends in a sassy Zumba class. Let the music motivate you, as you shake your booty and give your heart and body a workout.
“Go Red for Women,” may officially kickoff on February 2nd, but heart disease prevention is a year-round, lifelong pursuit. Now is the time to put one foot in front of other to stay strong against heart disease. Every step you take is takes you one step away from becoming a statistic.