February is Women's Heart Health Month.
According to the American Heart Association's 'Go Red for Women' site, 'unfortunately the simple fact of being a woman increases your risk for heart disease and stroke.'
There are some risk factors - such as family history, or a personal history of previous stroke, heart attack or coronary artery disease - that can't be changed or controlled. However diet and lifestyle are really important in managing risk factors that can be controlled. These include:
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Lack of regular activity
- Obesity or overweight
Knowing the Symptoms: What Women Should Look Out For
According to Healthline, ' Because the warning signs for heart attacks in women differ so greatly from those in men, symptoms often go undetected. Women's heart attack symptoms are often more subtle (than men's), which can delay proper medical care. Some of the most commonly reported symptoms include:
- A squeezing or tightening sensation around the bra line
- Flu-like symptoms for up to a month prior to chest pain
- Pain that radiates up the neck
- Pain over one breast that radiates to the back or arm
- Nausea, sweating, or shortness of breath
It's important for all of us to know the symptoms so that we can act quickly if there are warning signs. Sharing information with women around you - particularly older women who may be more susceptible - is a good way of raising awareness.
Top Risk Factor: High Blood Pressure
The American Heart Health Association says that "High blood pressure (HBP) is considered a silent killer. It sneaks up on you, carries no symptoms and can put you at risk for heart disease."
About one in three US adults has high blood pressure. Since it is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, dealing with high blood pressure is important for reducing your risk factor for heart disease.
Stopping smoking, eating a balanced diet (and reducing alcohol), getting rid of excess weight and getting plenty of exercise are changes that are likely both to reduce your blood pressure and your overall risk of heart disease.
Alongside these, however, there are other lifestyle factors that can help to reduce blood pressure. Here are some of the most beneficial things you can do:
Get Good Sleep
According to the Mayo Clinic, sleeping fewer than six hours a night has been associated with a risk of higher blood pressure. It is thought that sleep helps to regulate the level of stress hormone in your blood, and so a lack of good quality sleep may lead to an increased risk of high blood pressure (or a worsening of already-high blood pressure).
Although studies are still being done on a direct causal link between stress and long-term high blood pressure, it is widely accepted that reducing stress has a positive affect on blood pressure as well as general health - essentially, being less stressed is never a bad thing.
There are many ways of reducing stress, so it's important to find what works for you. Writing, drawing and painting can help to reduce stress, as can listening to classical music. Many known stress relievers - such as golf, gardening or going for walks - also double up as great exercise for extra 'good for blood pressure' points! Find what works for you and make it a non-negotiable part of your lifestyle.
Practice Yoga and/or Meditation
There is evidence that both meditation and yoga can help to reduce blood pressure.
Regular meditation - try 20 minutes a day - can help to slow the heart rate and has been shown in studies to reduce stress levels.
Yoga - especially a practice that involves breath control, physical poses and meditation - has also been shown effective at reducing blood pressure, and is a great addition to any exercise regime for a host of other health benefits.
There are many things that can help to reduce heart disease, and most of them will not just reduce your risk factors, but will improve your overall health. In the month of love, when the heart takes center stage for other reasons, we want to shine a light on this important topic and hope that you'll share the information with your circle of beloved women.
American Heart Health Association: Go Red for Women
Healthline: Why Women's Hearts are Special
Healthline: 17 Effective Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure
Mayo Clinic: Sleep Deprivation: A Cause of High Blood Pressure?