What All Women Need to Know About Having a Healthy Heart

Every day we can make the decision to be healthy and take care of our bodies. As a busy mom and/or professional woman, you probably spend much of your time taking care of others. Don’t overlook yourself and one of your most prized possessions – your heart.

Here are my top five tips all women need to know for having a healthy heart:

  1. Exercise regularly.  You’ve heard this, you know it’s important but how often do you actually do it? Getting your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes five times a week has huge health benefits.  It will reduce your blood pressure, improve the level of good cholesterol or HDL (think H for healthy), improve how your body produces and handles insulin and reduce your risk for diabetes. For diabetics, it improves your blood sugar control.  The added benefit is that it shows!  The blood flow to your body improves with exercise and it helps maintain that healthy glow, your mental sharpness and helps you handle stress better.
  2. Don’t drink your calories.  We have high diabetes rates in Alabama.  Diabetes leads to damage to the blood vessels in your body, including those supplying the heart.  Drinking your calories from sodas and other sugary drinks will only stimulate your pancreas and insulin production.  Overproduction of insulin can lead to diabetes and also weight gain.  It can also sabotage your best efforts to lose and maintain weight.
  3. If you drink, make it red wine in moderation.  For women,  that means no more than two, 5 ounce glasses daily. We would never encourage you to start drinking alcohol since too much can have many harmful effects on your body. But if you already enjoy a glass of wine red wine has long been thought of as heart healthy. Antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols (especially flavonoids and resveratrol) may help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart  and may modestly raise your HDL  or good cholesterol.
  4. Know your numbers!  If you are over the age of 18, you should have a cholesterol profile checked once a year to find out your healthy cholesterol (HDL), your lousy cholesterol (LDL) and the level of fats in your blood (Triglycerides).  For women, your HDL should be over 50. Depending on risk, LDL should be below 130 or 100 (under 70 if you have heart disease or are at high risk). Triglycerides need to be under 150. Women often have high HDL and are told they can overlook their LDL.  This is not true. Make sure you know your numbers.
  5. Know the salt content of everything you eat. In addition to avoiding the salt shaker, avoid processed foods and eating out frequently.  A meal out can give you as much salt as five times your daily allowance. (That would be under 2000 mg or even lower if you look at new national health guidelines.)  Salt can cause blood pressure to rise, and for many of us, it causes swelling or puffiness in our feet, ankles, hands and face.
  6. Quit Smoking, Quit Smoking, Quit Smoking!!!  Cigarettes greatly increase your risk of heart attack and stroke even more so if you’re on oral contraceptives or other hormonal preparations.  Don’t kid yourself about social smoking. It’s still smoking. Even one cigarette a week increases your risk of heart attack, stroke and other blood vessel disease.

We know you’re busy, especially taking care of everyone else. Start with yourself and your heart by following these six tips to make sure you’re around for others for many years to come.

By Dr. Anuradha Rao, MD, FACC
Dr. Anuradha Rao is a women’s cardiovascular specialist with Brookwood Baptist Medical Center.

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