23 Crucial Facts About Heart Health Every Woman Should Know
Essential info for building a ticker strong as steel.
Every day as you're going about your routine, your heart is pumping away, sending blood throughout your body, which allows you to hit stressful work deadlines, help your kids with their homework, and push through spin class like a boss. Unfortunately, the extra-important organ isn't going to stay strong forever—especially if you're trying to make it keep up with any bad habits you might have. Here are 23 facts about heart health every woman should know about to keep her heart healthy for years to come.
Heart Disease Is the Number One Killer of Women
There's plenty of reasons why to keep your heart healthy, but this may be the biggest: If you don't, it could kill you. Even though heart disease is more often associated with men, it's the leading cause of death for U.S. women, causing 1 in 4 female deaths per year, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
What You Eat Makes a Big Difference
You know that eating a wholesome, veggie-loaded diet affects your overall health, and that's especially true when it comes to your heart. While French fries and mac and cheese are surely delicious, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends sticking to foods that are low-salt or low-sodium, limiting trans fats (which, in excess, can cause heart attacks), and limiting added sugar.
Other Health Problems Increase Your Risk of Heart Troubles
If you're not taking care of your body, it gets harder to avoid issues with your heart. You can easily increase your risk of heart disease, for instance, if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol—two problems that can become life-threatening if you don't focus on getting them under control now.
Stress Plays a Role in Heart Health
Unfortunately, women's hearts are much more affected by stress than men's are, says the Mayo Clinic. Since it can increase your risk of developing heart disease, focus on adding time into your schedule now to relieve some of that tension, whether it's doing a daily workout, meditating, or working out problems with a therapist.
Heart Attacks Don't Look Like They Do on TV
In movies and on TV, heart attacks are very theatrical: someone usually grabs their chest and falls over. In reality, things are a lot different for women. Typically, a heart attack simply involves experiencing chest pain or discomfort, upper back pain, heartburn, nausea, and extreme fatigue, says the CDC. A lot of the time, you might not even know you're having one. That's why it's better to be safe than sorry if you're feeling any signs.
It's Essential to Stay Active
To keep your heart in peak condition, it's important to make sure you're staying active. According to the CDC, that means trying to hit 2 hours and 30 minutes of exercise every week—even if that just means a quickie workout after you get home at night. (That factors out to only about 21 minutes a day, by the way. Anyone can do it!)
The Maximum Drink Limit for Heart Health Is Less Than You Think
While a few glasses of wine while watching your favorite TV show at night doesn't seem like a big deal, it is one for your heart. According to the CDC, women shouldn't have more than one drink per day—otherwise, without moderation, it could result in long-term problems down the line, including heart disease.
It's Possible to Have a Broken Heart
Most people have experienced a broken heart at some point during their lifetime, but it's actually a legit medical condition—and a serious one at that. According to the Mayo Clinic, broken heart syndrome involves experiencing a severe form of heart muscle failure that's usually temporary after going through a stressful situation. So if you're dealing with something, take care of yourself: Your heart needs it.
Menopause Can Affect Your Heart
When you go through menopause, you're dealing with fatigue, hot flashes, insomnia—all sorts of not-so-fun symptoms. But those lower levels of estrogen that occur afterward can affect your heart, too: According to the Mayo Clinic, it's a significant risk factor for heart disease.
You Don't Have to Be Overweight to Be at Risk of Heart Disease
While obesity is a risk factor for heart disease, it's still completely possible to develop when you're thin. Past research has found it can happen to adults in the recommended weight range as well—especially if they have elevated blood pressure and cholesterol.
Women Have Smaller Hearts
Not many people realize it, but women's hearts are actually smaller than men's—two-thirds the size, in fact. Because of that, your heart rate is faster and you have smaller arteries, which can make it easier for them to be blocked up by plaque and cause health issues.
Depression Can Play a Role in Your Heart Health
As if battling depression isn't already hard enough, Johns Hopkins Medicine says those with the disorder develop heart disease more quickly than the rest of the population. Since depression is more common in women than men, it's important to focus on your mental health now: for your overall happiness and well-being, but also for your body.
Being Pregnant Can Put Stress on Your Heart
If you're thinking about becoming pregnant, it's a good idea to be aware of its effects on your heart. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, having high blood pressure during those nine months can put a lot of stress on the organ, which can in turn increase your risk of heart disease.
Yo-Yo Dieting Can Negatively Affect Your Heart
Instead of doing crazy diets, stick to something you can maintain for years to come—especially since, according to past research, constantly losing and gaining weight post-menopause could increase your risk of both sudden cardiac arrest and coronary heart disease. The instance was actually found to be strongest in women of a normal BMI.
You Need to Get Proper Sleep
You can be super healthy in other areas of your life, but if you're not getting enough sleep at night, the National Sleep Foundation says you're still putting yourself at a higher risk of heart disease—possibly due to impacting your blood pressure and inflammation in the body.
Marital Stress Can Lead to Heart Disease
There's a big reason why you shouldn't let fights with your significant other get out of hand: Past research has found the stress from those disagreements could lead to atherosclerosis in women, which causes the arteries to harden. It's the leading cause of heart attacks and can play a role in developing heart disease.
Your Migraines Could Be Linked to Heart Problems
If you have a history of migraines, make sure your doctor knows it. Past research shows it could be an indicator of an increased risk of developing heart disease or having a stroke down the line, so it's a good idea to make sure your health is in check as early as possible.
Sitting All Day, Every Day, Can Affect Your Heart
It's hard to make sure you're moving around a lot during the day—especially if you have a desk job. But getting in those extra steps can do a lot of good for your heart. One study found women who sit more than 10 hours a day were at a higher risk of a stroke, heart attacks, and heart disease than those who only sat 5 hours or less a day.
Women's Heart Problems Come Later in Life
While heart problems can come at every age, most women develop issues later in life due to a "greater rise in cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, weight gain, and menopausal hormone imbalance," says Dr. Stephen Sinatra. Because of that, it's best to get your health under control as soon as possible by making sure you're eating right and exercising often.
Leg Swelling Could Be a Sign of Bigger Problems
If you ever notice swelling your legs, don't rule out edema, which Harvard Medical School says occurs when the heart can't properly pump blood back up from your legs. If you're also experiencing symptoms like shortness of breath and fatigue, it could be heart failure you're dealing with.
Chest Pain Can Be More Serious Than You Think
When you experience angina—or chest pain, which is a warning sign of heart disease—it might not seem like a big deal. Most women think it's just indigestion or stress and brush it off, and that's why it's so commonly undiagnosed. But to make sure you don't develop any serious problems, it's a good idea to get any aches and pains checked out.
Smoking Is Way Worse for Your Heart Than You Think
Usually, smoking is associated with being horrible for the lungs—but it's bad for your heart, too. Experts say due to the increase in blood pressure it causes, your blood vessels develop a buildup of plaque that can put your heart at risk. So much so that it doubles your risk of heart attack and stroke.
Diabetes Increases Your Risk of Heart Disease
Diabetes is bad news for your heart. Not only does it make you more likely to develop heart disease, but it also puts you at risk of a heart attack or stroke. That's why it's so important to manage it properly—if you don't, your life could end because of it. And for more healthy living advice, check out the 30 Worst Women's Health Myths That Won't Die.
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