More women die of heart disease than any other cause. Here’s 10 ways to lower the risk
It’s a sobering fact that heart disease is the No 1 threat to women. In fact, it’s twice as deadly as breast cancer. British Heart Foundation research suggest that there are around 3.5 million women living with a heart or circulatory disease – including heart disease and stroke – in the UK.
More than 24,000 women die from coronary heart disease each year in the UK, most commonly due to a heart attack – that’s an average of 65 women a day. Your heart is something that you can help, or hinder, every day of your life, so follow these top 10 tips to keep things ticking over nicely.
Spot the signs: Chest pain can be a sign of a heart attack. But heart attacks in women can also be accompanied by symptoms that can be confused with other ailments. Shortness of breath, nausea or actual vomiting, back or jaw pain and unexplained fatigue can also be danger signs. If you’re in any doubt, don’t hesitate to seek help from your GP just to be on the safe side.
Pack it in: There are zillions of reasons why smokers should kick the habit. It helps health in so many ways and lowering the risk of heart disease is right up there. If you’ve tried to quit and can’t, get some help – Google the NHS Quit Line.
Get yourself checked: The British Heart Foundation says that anyone over the age of 40 should be having regular cardiovascular check-ups with their doctor. This examines risk factors including cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes. Family history is another good reason for a check, especially if your mum had a heart attack before the age of 60, or if your dad had one before the age of 45.
Confront your front: The more fat you store around your middle (as opposed to your hips, thighs or bottom), the higher your risk of heart disease. But on the plus side, this more dangerous fat is also the easiest to shift.
Cut out trans fats: Unlike ‘good’ fats found in foods such as olive oil, flaxseed oil and walnuts, trans fats are chemically altered vegetable oils and should be avoided. They are very common, turning up in everything from ready meals and biscuits to crisps and sweets.
Get going: After menopause, women have higher concentrations of total cholesterol. To compensate, women need to make their life more aerobic. Aerobic exercise helps boost your ‘good’ cholesterol and lowers the blood fats (known as triglycerides). Exercise also helps reduce blood pressure, keeps your weight down and makes you feel good.
Salt it out: Just a pinch of salt can raise your blood pressure and you shouldn’t consume more than six grams a day – that’s about a teaspoon’s worth. So start taking an interest in the labels of foods you buy and, at home go easy on how much you use. (A good start is not to salt something you haven’t tasted.) Your blood pressure should be 120/80mmHg or below, and bear in mind that over the age of 55 there are more women with high blood pressure than men.
Something fishy: Try to put fish on the menu at least twice a week. It can lower your blood fats and help boost your levels of HDL, or ‘good’ cholesterol. In particular, go for mackerel, salmon or sardines which are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. These are protective fats that are good for your heart.
Cut down on alcohol: There is some evidence that an occasional glass of red wine can be beneficial, but on the whole alcohol and good health don’t tend to mix. As well as risking other problems, women who drink more than a glass of wine a day may find their blood fats (triglycerides) starting to rise.
Reduce the risk of diabetes: A woman with diabetes has an increased risk – by a factor up to seven – of heart disease or heart attack. How do you know if you’re at risk of diabetes? One indicator is to measure your girth (the circumference of your abdomen, running a tape measure across your belly button). If it’s above 35 inches your risk of diabetes, and therefore heart disease, is greater.