Today I am writing about a topic very important to me, heart disease, along with many other bloggers as part of the American Heart Associations’ Blog Your Heart Out Campaign to fight heart disease in women (and no we are not getting paid to do this, we simply support this movement and want to spread the word)- Go Red for Women.
Do you know that heart disease is the number 1 killer of women?! I would’ve guessed breast cancer but according to the American Heart Association heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined. It’s not just old men that need to worry about this deadly disease. Of course there are many genetic issues that may predispose a person to heart disease or heart defects, but there are healthy changes that we can make to our lifestyle that can decrease our risk of developing heart disease.
Factors that affect blood pressure and risk for heart disease :
- Age. The incidence of blood pressure increases with age.
- Family history. Having a family history of high blood pressure may increase the likelihood that you or your children develop it too.
- Excess body weight. Being overweight can increase blood pressure. Losing weight can help.
- Physical Inactivity. Physical activity may help reduce blood pressure. Consult with your Doctor first if you have questions or other medical conditions.
- Excess alcohol intake. Drink with moderation as excess alcohol intake is associated with high blood pressure.
- Inadequate intake of Potassium, Fruits and Vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are naturally low in sodium and high in nutrients and fiber. Also high potassium foods can reduce blood pressure (bananas, potatoes, avocados, yogurt, etc.)
Factors that you can control:
- Your Diet- Michael Pollen says it best in my opinion “eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. I love this for so many reasons- it emphasizes eating real food and avoiding processed foods, watch your portion sizes, eat mostly plant based. In addition to those food rules, watch your sodium (no more than 2,300 mg/day) and eat heart healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, nuts and fatty fish.
- Exercise- walk, bike, run, dance, do whatever appeals to you most; just move and strengthen your heart (it is a muscle by the way).
- Screenings. Talk to your Doctor about having a lipo-protein screening, especially if you have a family history of heart disease.
- Stress. Reduce the stress in your life. Women feel like they have to do it all and it’s simply not true. It’s ok to ask for help and it’s ok to not be perfect.
- Quit Smoking. Smoking is a major cause of coronary artery disease.
- Manage Your Blood Sugars. If you have been diagnosed with Diabetes it is very important to reduce your blood sugars (through diet, exercise and weight loss).
Why it’s important to me:
Of course my job as a Registered Dietitian is to encourage people to live healthier lives, to prevent diseases, but there is a more personal reason why this topic is so close to me. I have a family history of heart disease. My father had his first attack when he was 38 years old. That is not a typo. Thirty-eight. That is the age of my husband and just crazy to imagine.
Eventually, my dad had to have a defibrillator implanted which thankfully saved his life on several occasions. Defibrillators are used to treat cardiac issues such as when the heart beats too fast to deliver blood properly or when the heart twitches. It corrects the problem by delivering a jolt of electricity. You’ve seen cases on TV or the movies when they use those big paddles to shock the chest? This is the same thing, it just happens internally for life-threatening cases.
I remember hearing of the many times my dad’s defibrillator went off…of how it shocked him in the middle of a business dinner and so many other times when he least expected it. I can only imagine it was a frightening way to live. With time, things got worse and worse…..until Dad was in heart failure.
It was a scary and stressful time for us all. I remember getting calls from my mom when I was in graduate school in Boston about how sick he was becoming.
There was really nothing more that the Doctors could do for him, but to put him on the heart transplant list. My dad needed a new heart and we had to just wait and pray that he would get one.
It is with joy that I can say that this year we celebrated the 10th anniversary of my dad’s successful heart transplant. Ten years! It still amazes me every time I think about it. The story of how he received it is nothing short of a miracle, but will have to be saved for another time. My family is blessed and my dad now lives a healthy lifestyle with his strong healthy heart.
Seeing a loved one suffer with illness is a terrible thing. Let’s do what we can to be as healthy as we can be.
If you have a family history of heart disease, please let your Doctor know so that you can get the proper medical testing done. Take care of your body. There is a reason why we want to eat healthy, exercise and live healthy lifestyle….to prevent developing life altering diseases.
Beyond taking the steps to live a healthier, more active life, you can help spread the word by joining the Go Red Movement at goredforwomen.org and make it a mission to spread the word about heart disease.
Live healthy, Go Red.
In case you missed these other health related posts: