Many women think heart disease is a man’s problem, however the statistics tell us a very different story. The truth is, heart disease is the number one killer of women, with four times more women dying from heart disease each year than from breast cancer. If you’re a 40-year old female living in Australia, you have a one in three chance of having a heart attack by the age of 70. While these stats create a grim picture, heart disease is preventable and a few tweaks to your lifestyle may be all it takes to reduce your risk.
Women are generally surprised that they are at risk of heart disease, yet 90 per cent of Australian women have one risk factor such as smoking, poor diet, physically inactive, overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels or diabetes. Fifty per cent have two or three risk factors and the more risk factors you have, the greater your risk of developing heart disease. Managing or reducing these risk factors plays an important role in preventing heart disease.
Reducing Your Risk
Women tend to worry about everyone and everything else before they take the time to focus on their on health. But, putting yourself at the bottom of the priority ladder, makes it hard for you to look after the people who matter to you. Find some time each day to focus on your own health and your heart will reap the benefits. Here are four small changes you can make to your lifestyle to improve your heart health.
- Move more: Moving more isn’t just about meeting the minimum physical activity guidelines of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most, preferably all, days of the week. It’s also about breaking up prolonged periods of sedentary behaviour such as sitting at your desk, commuting to and from work sitting, watching television on the couch or surfing the net. Sitting down for prolonged, unbroken periods of time induce muscular inactivity and have been linked to increased waist circumference, blood pressure and triglyceride levels. Be sure to include your daily exercise, but also ensure you’re sitting less, moving more and moving often.
- Stress less: Ladies, if you’re younger than 50 and stressed at work, you have a 35 per cent greater risk of developing heart disease than women who feel comfortable with their workplace pressure. If you’re feeling the pressure at work, tackle it in a positive way by using your lunch break to go for a run or walk. Talking to your colleagues can also be a great way to find out how best to manage the work pressures.
- Reduce your waistline: A large waistline indicates that there is excess fat deposited around the vital organs. As your waist circumference increases, you are more at risk of developing high cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels and high blood pressure levels. All these factors significantly increase your risk of developing heart disease. For optimal health, it’s best for us females to keep our waist circumference under 80cm.
- Quit smoking: If you smoke, quitting is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Smoking is a major cause of atherosclerosis – the build up of fatty substances in arteries – which reduces blood flow and increases you risk of heart disease and stroke. While there is no safe level of smoking, women who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of developing heart disease than non-smokers. For those of you who smoke and take an oral contraceptive pill this also greatly increases your heart disease disk, particularly if you’re 35 years or over. The good news is though, one year after quitting, your risk of developing heart disease is greatly reduced. Call the Quitline on 131 848 and take the first step towards quitting.
Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus
Heart disease in women doesn’t always present in the same way as it does in males, with symptoms varying between the two genders. Women with chest pain and other heart symptoms are more likely than men to have clear coronary arteries, which suggests there may be another cause for their problems. When women do have blocked coronary arteries, they tend to have worse symptoms like greater chest pain and disability and be older than men with similar blockages. Women are also more likely than men to develop heart failure, a weakening of the heart muscle that can be debilitating and ultimately fatal. Severe emotional stress in women also makes them more likely than men to develop a rare, temporary type of heart failure.
Heart Healthy Challenge
In 2011, The National Heart Foundation launched the Healthy Heart Challenge – a six-week challenge that involves making simple changes that help reduce your risk of heart disease. There are four goals to choose from:
- Lower high cholesterol levels
- Lower high blood pressure
- Be active every day
- Improve everyday nutrition
The 2012 Healthy Heart Challenge runs from Monday 4th June to Sunday 15th July and all you need to do is register online at Healthy Heart Challenge. It’s free and the challenge last year helped many women improve their health. At the end of the 2011 challenge, 8 per cent of the women registered were able to stop taking their heart-related medication as advised by their doctor. So, what are you waiting for. Make your health a priority and sign up for the Healthy Heart Challenge now.
How do you look after your heart?