By Nathan Millikan, MD, FACC
Take action now.
That is the message I want to convey to all women of all ages when it comes to protecting their hearts. It's a fact, more women die of heart disease than from the next four causes of death -- combined. And, that includes all forms of cancer.
The truth is 80 percent of cardiac events in women could be prevented. It all comes down to making better choices. Choose to love your heart with better food choices and activities and if you smoke -- stop.
Of course there are risk factors you can't control such as age, gender, family history and race. But, what about the ones you can control? The American Heart Association is now promoting The Simple 7 to aid in the battle against heart disease:
- Don't smoke
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Engage in regular physical activity
- Eat a healthy diet
- Manage your blood pressure
- Take charge of your cholesterol
- Keep blood sugar at healthy levels
How can you reduce your risk for heart disease? Begin with small, simple choices that are easy to stick to. When you see yourself transforming your overall health just keep adding bigger and better choices.
Choose to quit smoking. We are fortunate to have smoking cessation classes offered by Henry County Hospital at Forest Ridge Medical Pavilion, but you also can speak to your physician for help. Do whatever it takes to stop smoking.
Choose to lighten up. If you have too much fat -- and more than 2/3rds of all American adults do -- you are at a higher risk for high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Carrying around extra body weight increases the burden on your heart, lungs, blood vessels and your skeleton. A loss of even 5-10 pounds can make a difference.
Choose to get active. Of course exercise is good for us, but if you are one of the nearly 70 percent of Americans not getting the physical activity you need just take small steps. Literally -- just start walking. It's time to make the time to get active. If you can't get in the preferred 30 minutes a day even 10 minutes is better than zero minutes. Of course if you have been leading a sedentary lifestyle you should check with your physician before beginning any exercise program.
Choose to eat healthier every day. Don't say diet, just select more fruits, vegetables and foods high in fiber and lean protein and less of the foods high in saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, sodium and added sugars. It's not easy to make the healthy choice, but planning and stocking your kitchen with healthy foods is a start.
Choose to manage your blood pressure. High blood pressure is the single most significant risk factor for heart disease. The good news is you can manage your blood pressure by eating a heart-healthy diet and reducing sodium, enjoying physical activity, managing stress, limiting alcohol and avoiding tobacco smoke. Talk to your physician about managing your blood pressure and if you are prescribed medication -- take it. There is a reason high blood pressure is known as the silent killer.
Choose to control your cholesterol. Know your numbers for LDL (bad) and HDL (good) by having a simple blood cholesterol screening ordered by your physician. To help lower your cholesterol eat foods low in trans and saturated fats and high in fiber. An active lifestyle increases your body's ability to make the good cholesterol. And, if your physician prescribes medication to lower your cholesterol -- take it.
Choose to keep your blood sugar in check. Diabetes is considered one of the six major controllable risk factors for heart disease. With diabetes -- or pre-diabetes -- your physician will help you monitor it closely and encourage you to have regular check-ups as well as lifestyle changes such as in the Simple 7. Help your health and reduce the amount of simple sugars in your diet such soda, candy and sugary treats.
By choosing to take action now and make small changes every day, you can make a surprisingly big impact on your heart health.