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Published on October 11, 2018

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5 things you can do to take care of your heart

Approximately 90% of women have risk factors for heart disease. Here's how to lower your risk.

Many women are unaware that heart disease is the greatest threat to their health. Yet, heart disease takes more women's lives annually than every form of cancer combined.

Women's symptoms of heart disease can be more subtle than men's, and their response to them is often delayed. Women may feel tired or easily fatigued, but they often make excuses to themselves about what is happening and dismiss the signs.

There are anatomical distinctions as well. Women tend to develop diffuse plaque that usually builds up evenly in their arteries, which are smaller than a man's. This is significant because it makes it harder for doctors to see a blockage in a woman's arteries.

The challenge is compounded because women typically wait longer than men to go to the emergency room when they are having a heart attack, and they are less likely than men to present with chest pain and EKG changes. As a result, physicians may be slower to recognize heart attacks in women.

5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today

The American Heart Association (AHA) urges women to spend as much time taking care of their hearts as they do their families, jobs and homes. Lifestyle changes can reduce a woman's risk of heart disease by as much as 80%. Even making incremental improvements can make a huge difference.

  1. Get Active. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity such as brisk walking 5 times a week. Studies suggest that 2 days of strength training each week can also provide heart healthy benefits. Losing as few as 5-10 pounds can have tremendous benefits for your heart.
  2. Eat Better. Instead of trying out a succession of fad diets, experts recommend beginning to substitute more vegetables and fruits for less healthy items in your diet. Also try to use fiber-rich whole-grain breads and cereals and fat-free or low-fat dairy items. And immediately start to reduce soda, candy and sugary desserts.
  3. Manage Blood Pressure. High blood pressure increases the strain on your heart and arteries. For women who typically act as head of household while maintaining a career outside the home, stress can be a huge driver of unhealthy blood pressure. Quiet reflection for 15 minutes a day can help drive down stress levels.
  4. Stop Smoking. Cigarette smoking damages your entire circulatory system and increases your risk for heart disease. Experts advise doing whatever you can to quit smoking!
  5. Nurture Caring Relationships. Experts say that depression and a lack of social support are risk factors for heart disease. "Social isolation is detrimental," Dr. Holly Andersen of the Weill Cornell Medical College told The New York Times. "Women who regularly spend time with close friends live longer and have less heart disease."

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