Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of American adults today. And this isn't a man's disease. Twice as many women die from heart disease each year as from all types of cancers combined, including breast cancer.
You can't avoid some risk factors ... such as having a family or personal history of heart problems or having gone through menopause. But there are lots of steps you can take to lower your chances of getting heart diseases.
Don't smoke. Smokers are at twice the risk for heart attack as non-smokers, and are more likely to die from a heart attack.
Have your cholesterol checked. Ask for a "simple lipid panel" that shows your HDL (high-density lipoprotein), LDL (low-density lipoprotein), and triglyceride levels. Your goal is to have low LDL (under 130), high HDL (over 50), and low triglycerides (under 200). If your numbers are not in the healthy range, ask your health care provider for advice on getting there.
Have your blood pressure checked regularly. High blood pressure makes your heart work harder, which eventually leads to enlarging and weakening. Your blood pressure is considered high if it reads 140 over 90 or greater, and borderline if it reads 130 to 139 over 85 to 89.
Lose weight if needed. Obesity exacerbates other risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. To determine if you are obese, multiply your weight in pounds by 705, divide by your height in inches, and then again by your height in inches. This reading is called your "body mass index." If your BMI is between 25 and 29, you are overweight; over 30 is considered obese.
Exercise regularly. Studies show that even moderate exercise, such as walking, reduces the risk of heart disease by improving circulation, enhancing efficient use of fats and sugars, and helping to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Exercise at least three to four times a week on a regular schedule for 30 to 40 minutes at a time.
Reduce stress. Your body responds to stress by making your blood pressure and heart rate higher. This means your heart has to work harder. Over time, high levels of stress can harm your health. If stress is a problem for you, try exercising or other relaxation techniques.
Duke Medicine is focusing on women's heart health this month with a special event at Brier Creek Country Club in north Raleigh on Feb. 20. Your Heart, Your Health: A Red Dress Celebration will be from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and feature a health fair, cooking demonstrations, expert advice, screenings and a message from national speaker Nancy Coey, who presents "What Would Happen If I Did Remove the Mattress Tag?!? Living a Heart-Full Life!" Click here for more information and how to register.