Heart disease is the biggest killer of both men and women worldwide. Yet many women don’t think they need to worry about their heart health.
Only 1 in 5 women believe that heart disease is their biggest health risk. That’s according to the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women — an initiative aimed at educating women about their risk of heart disease.
The facts are that nearly every minute a woman dies from heart disease in the U.S. That’s 1 in 3 women every year. Another stark reality: More women than men have died from heart disease every year since 1984 — and the gap keeps widening.
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Heart Health Tips for Women
The good news is that 30% of deaths from heart disease are preventable if you know what to do to protect your heart health. That’s according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Incorporating these changes into your lifestyle can reduce your risk of developing heart disease by as much as 80%, according to the AHA.
Tobacco use is a major risk factor for heart disease. Smoking damages your heart and blood vessel function, which increases your risk of atherosclerosis.
Atherosclerosis is when your arteries become clogged with a waxy substance called plaque. Plaque build up can lead to diseases of the heart and arties, which can increase your risk of a heart attack and other heart-related problems.
Quitting smoking also helps those around you, since second-hand smoke is also a risk factor for heart disease.
If you already have heart disease, breaking the smoking habit can reduce your risk of a second heart attack and cardiac death by 50% or more. That’s according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Control important heart health numbers
Several health measures impact your heart health.
Below are important heart health measures for most adults, according to the AHA. If your numbers are higher, talk to your doctor about what you can do to get them under control. Different life stages and other factors, such as the medication you take, can help your doctor determine what’s normal and healthy for you.
- Blood pressure: Less than 120/80 mm Hg.
- Body mass index, or BMI: Less than 25 kg/m2.
- Fasting blood sugar: Less than 100 mg/dL.
- Total cholesterol: Less than 200 mg/dL. Cholesterol numbers also include LDL, or bad cholesterol and HDL, or good cholesterol. After menopause women’s levels of LDL bad cholesterol increases.
Routine heart screenings can keep you on top of these heart health measures before they become a problem. Talk to your doctor about when — and how often — you should receive screening based on your heart disease risk factors.
To protect your heart health, you need to move your body more. Becoming more active reduces your risk of heart disease by 30% to 40%. Physical activity means a combination of getting more exercise and limiting the amount of time you stay seated.
For weekly fitness, the AHA recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 minutes of high intensity exercise. It’s best to spread this time out over several days.
A sedentary lifestyle and prolonged sitting increases your risk of cardiovascular disease by 125%. So it’s important to get up and move throughout the day.
If you want to binge watch a show, for example, use commercial breaks to stand up and move around. A standing desk at work can help you break up workday sitting.
Being more physically active is an important part of getting your heart health numbers under control. Exercise can help lower your BMI, and help control blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Regular exercise can also help you control stress, another risk factor for heart disease.
Stress can impact your health health in several ways. Chronic stress can increase your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. It might also trigger inflammation, a precursor to heart disease, reports Harvard Health.
To manage stress, incorporate relaxation techniques into your day and week. Try meditation and yoga.
If you’re overwhelmed by stress, talk to your doctor. They can recommend a mental health provider who can help you.
Avoid, or limit, alcohol
For many women, drinking alcohol is part of socializing. But alcohol can have repercussions for heart health. And some women, such as those who are pregnant, shouldn’t drink any alcohol.
Alcohol affects heart health in several ways.
- Too much alcohol can increase your triglyceride level. Triglycerides are fats in your blood that can accumulate in your artery walls. This can then increase your risk of heart attack and stroke.
- Excessive drinking can cause high blood pressure.
- Consuming 4 or more alcoholic drinks in 2 hours can put women at a higher risk of atrial fibrillation (AFib). AFib is an irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke, blood clots, and heart failure.
If you want an occasional drink, follow U.S. Dietary and AHA guidelines and limit it to 1 drink per day. One drink is 5 ounces of wine, a 12-ounce beer, or 1.5 ounces of distilled (hard) alcoholic beverages, like whiskey.
The AHA does not recommend drinking red wine or any alcohol for potential heart health benefits.
The Magee-Womens Heart Program provides complete diagnostics, assessments, and treatment for women at risk for or living with heart disease. To learn more, visit the Magee-Womens Heart Program or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).
Go Red for Women. American Heart Association. Link.
2021 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update Fact Sheet At-a-Glance. Link.
Potentially Preventable Deaths Among the Five Leading Causes of Death — United States, 2010 and 2014. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.
Preventing Cardiovascular Disease. American Heart Association. Go Red for Women. Link.
Smoking and Your Heart. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Link.
Fitness. Go Red For Women. Link.
How Much Physical Activity Do You Need? American Heart Association. Link.
Physical Inactivity and Heart Disease in Women. AHA. Go Red for Women. Link.
Know Your Numbers. AHA. Go Red for Women. Link.
How and When to Have Your Cholesterol Checked. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.
Is Drinking Alcohol Part of a Healthy Lifestyle? AHA. Link.
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.
For more than a century, UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital has provided high-quality medical care to women at all stages of life. UPMC Magee is long-renowned for its services to women and babies but also offers a wide range of care to men as well. Our patient-first approach ensures you and your loved ones get the care you need. Nearly 10,000 babies are born each year at Magee, and our NICU is one of the largest in the country. Our network of care – from imaging centers to hospital services – provides care throughout Pennsylvania and Maryland, giving you a chance to get the expert care you need close to home. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recognizes UPMC Magee as a National Center of Excellence in Women’s Health, and the Magee-Womens Research Institute is the largest research institute in the U.S. devoted exclusively to women’s health and reproductive biology.