Before you blow off heart disease as something health-savvy younger women donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have to worry about, read the stats. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s the number one killer of men and women over age 20, and one in three women have already racked up damage without having a clue. To spotlight the facts, the American Heart Association has made February Go Red for Women month, and they want you to know the easy moves that'll help keep your ticker in top shape.
Learn your family history Like so many other conditions, your genes influence your heart disease risk. If a first-degree female relative (your mom or your sister) was diagnosed with heart disease before age 65, or a first-degree male relative received a diagnosis before age 55, your odds of having a heart attack one day increase threefold. Luckily, making lifestyle changes now can dramatically lower your likelihood of following in their footsteps, says Nieca Goldberg, MD, cardiologist and Director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at NYU Langone Medical Center. RELATED: Outsmart Your DNA Destiny
Stop smokingÃ¢â‚¬”for good As if you need another reason to ditch the habit, women who smoke more than double their risk of sudden cardiac death, according to a December 2012 American Heart Association study, because nicotine can alter heart functioning and cigarette smoke scars heart tissue. WeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re not just talking about pack-a-day puffers here. Any amount of smoking boosts your risk, the study explains, even an occasional cigarette at a party. The upside: As soon as you go cold turkey, your heart will start rebounding, Goldberg says. RELATED: How to Quit Smoking Without Gaining Weight
Get a cholesterol test ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s simple screening that can clue you in to your future heart disease risk, says Goldberg. Get tested in your 20s so you have a baseline, and if itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in a healthy range, you won't need to be retested for another five years. If the numbers aren't optimal, your doc can help bring them in line by recommending diet changes or prescribing medication. RELATED: 6 Low-Cholesterol Recipes
Move around Your heart is a muscle, and like all muscles, working it out keeps it healthy by strengthening tissue and improving circulation. Aim for about 30 minutes a day of light to moderate cardio. That doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t mean hightailing it to Crossfit every night: you can reap the benefits with activities such as dancing, cleaning your house, or even walking your dog, says Goldberg. RELATED: How Sitting Too Much Can Kill You
Reel in stress When youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re anxious, your body pumps out higher amounts of the hormone cortisol, and consistently high cortisol levels cranks your cardiovascular disease risk, says Dr. Goldberg. Also, a small 2012 study from Penn State University found that when women were stressed, their hearts pumped less blood than stressed-out men, putting more of a strain on the female heart. We know itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s easier said than done, but try to carve out time every day to unwind, even if it's just chilling with your iPod or popping in a yoga DVD. RELATED: 31 Ways to Relax and Stress Less
Fill your plate with healthy food Unprocessed, plant-based foods have a positive effect on your heart, so load up on plenty of salad, whole grains, and cereals. Keep sugar and salt to a minimum; simple sugars (the kind found in processed foods and snacks) have been linked to higher levels of triglycerides, says Goldberg, which contributes to heart disease. Excess salt also poses a threat; too much can boost blood pressure, which stresses the heart. Of course, just as important as what you eat is how much you consume. Controlling portion sizes keeps you from packing on pounds, and obesity is a cardiovascular disease risk factor. RELATED: The Truth About Serving Sizes
Score regular restful sleep Ã¢â‚¬Å“Sleeping less than an average of seven hours a night has been shown to cause high blood pressure,Ã¢â‚¬Â says Goldberg. Poor sleep is also linked to the accumulation of abdominal fatÃ¢â‚¬”and muffin top is another heart attack offender. RELATED: Natural Ways to Get Better Sleep
Strengthen your social network Whether itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s in real time or on Facebook, people who maintain positive relationships with friends and family have lower heart disease odds, Goldberg says. One reason has to do with the fact that a strong social network makes it easier to handle lifeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s challenges. But also, people who are socially isolated tend skip workouts and eat poorly, she adds. RELATED: 6 Ways to Strengthen Your Friendships
photo: ankudi/Shutterstock.com More from Women's Health:
Tips to Make Your Heart Healthier
5 Steps to a Healthy Heart
Crank Up the Cardio
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