As part of National Women’s Health Week, experts at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation are delving deeper into the issue: cardiovascular disease. It is the leading cause of death for women in Sooner state. But prevention is not out of reach and small changes can add to a longer, healthier life.
1 Food for thought
“Your gift for the heart is a moderate diet of vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. It’s the proven Mediterranean diet,” said OMRF Vice President of Research Rodger McEver, MD, cardiovascular biologist.
The rate lowers cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Each is a risk factor for heart disease when not kept under control.
2 Keep moving
A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published in 2020 found that more than 30% of Oklahoma women are physically inactive.
“A sedentary lifestyle leads to obesity, a risk factor for heart disease,” McEver said. But, he added, you don’t have to become a marathon runner to turn things around.
“Start with walking or a low-impact exercise like yoga. When you see how it improves your feeling, it will be easier to make it a priority.”
3 Count sheep
“Studies have shown that women are more likely than men to have sleep problems. Capturing Z has an excessive impact on your heart,” said Eliza Chakravarty, a OMRF scientist.
According to the American Heart Association, “short sleep” (defined as less than six hours a night) is a risk factor for high blood pressure and stress. It also hinders weight loss.
“Sleep does your whole body well. Marking seven or eight hours of rest each night has a domino effect that helps from the heart to the immune system,” Chakravarty added.
4 Say no to tobacco
Tobacco damages blood vessels, raises blood pressure, and causes the heart to work harder by reducing the amount of oxygen the blood can carry.
“Quitting smoking is one of the best decisions you can make for your heart,” McEver said. “After a year or two of quitting, the risk of coronary heart disease decreases sharply.”
5 Know the signs
Although some women do not show symptoms of heart disease, many experience chest pain or discomfort, difficulty breathing, pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back, and nausea, vomiting, and fatigue.
“Heart disease is often not detected until a woman has an emergency such as a heart attack,” said McEver, who noted that women are more likely to die after a heart attack than men.
For this reason, says Chakravarty, women should know the signs of a heart emergency and practice prevention.
“More often than the chest pain that radiates to the arm and neck that we see in men, women experience dull, gnawing pain in the chest and abdomen along with nausea,” Chakravarty said. “A healthy lifestyle is the best defense of all women. Start small and the changes add up.”