February is American Heart Month, with Friday, February 7 marking the 10th celebration of the American Heart Association’s National Go Red Day to continue to create awareness of the prevention and treatment of heart disease in women.
One in three women have heart disease, the number one killer in the United States. The leading female cardiovascular experts of Mount Sinai Heart at The Mount Sinai Hospital are recommending the following “Top 10 Things Women Need to Do to Protect their Hearts,” from cardiovascular disease.
The top 10 heart healthy tips for women include:
1. Knowledge is Prevention, Know Your Numbers
Every woman needs to know her blood pressure, total cholesterol including good and bad cholesterol level, triglyceride level, glucose level and body mass index, according to Mount Sinai Heart experts. Starting at age 20 is an ideal time to start tracking these heart health indicators each year, or at least every five years for cholesterol. Try to take advantage of a free heart health screening event in your neighborhood like the annual Community Heart Health Fair at The Mount Sinai Hospital on February 7 at 1468 Madison Avenue at 100th Street from 10:30am to 2:00pm. The free community event, attended by more than 500 guests, offers these free heart health screenings, education and demonstrations on nutrition and diet, diabetes, stress management, smoking cessation, yoga and other relaxation techniques, along with free heart healthy food tastings prepared by the top chefs at Mount Sinai. Plus, guests receive free giveaways and a goodie-bag upon completion of their heart health screenings.
2. Eat and Snack Healthy Daily
For women eating a healthy diet all year round is critical to preventing heart disease and maintaining your current heart health level if you already have heart disease. “Remember to have a few servings a day of colorful fruits and vegetables, incorporate fiber into your daily diet, increase fish consumption over red meat, and avoid foods with high-saturated fats, high-sodium, sugar-loaded, and those which are highly-processed,” says Beth Oliver, DNP, RN, Vice President of Clinical Operations for Mount Sinai Heart. “Also, drink plenty of water, and limit caffeinated beverages. For healthy snack choices reach for two apples a day proven to help lower bad cholesterol, a handful of pistachios, almonds or walnuts, or colorful heart healthy snacks like blueberries, strawberries, and grapes.”
3. Exercise 30 Minutes Each Day
A key daily lifestyle ingredient for women to protect their hearts from heart disease is exercise. According to Mary Ann McLaughlin, MD, Medical Director of the Cardiac Health Program at Mount Sinai Heart, exercise is necessary to lower your risk of heart attacks, strokes, maintain your blood pressure, cholesterol, and also prevent diabetes and obesity. “It is critical to maintain a normal BMI which is between 18.5–24.9, more than 25 is overweight, and 30 or greater is obese,” stresses Dr. McLaughlin, since almost 64 percent of women are overweight, or obese. “Just 30 minutes a day of brisk walking can keep your heart healthy; or 75 minutes of intense exercise two days a week with strength-based exercises can also be ideal to keep heart disease at bay.”
4. Know Heart Attack Warning Signs and Don’t Wait to Call 9-1-1
Each year 1.1 million Americans have a heart attack including about 435,000 women. Sadly, heart attacks claim the lives of about 267,000 women each year. Most female heart attacks occur in post-menopausal women after age 50, but younger women can also experience a heart attack. “Women need to know the warning signs of a heart attack, and react quickly by calling 9-1-1,” says Annapoorna Kini, MD, Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at The Mount Sinai Hospital who treats hundreds of women each year for myocardial infarction or to open up their clogged arteries to prevent a future heart attack. “At about age 60 women should talk to their doctor about taking a low-dose aspirin as a heart attack prevention tool. Aspirin can also be a lifesaving tool if taken right away after calling 9-1-1 if you think you are experiencing a heart attack.” According to Dr. Kini, women need to be aware of the following key heart attack symptoms: shortness of breath at rest, uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or pain in your chest like you never felt before, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, lightheadedness, a cold sweat or flu-like feeling, extreme fatigue, and pain in the arm, back, neck, or even jaw.
5. Trim Your Waist to Below 35 Inches
Fat carried around the belly compromises your health. “Belly fat is more dangerous to your heart health than carrying excess fat on other parts of your body,” according to Lori Croft, MD, Associate Professor of Cardiology at Mount Sinai. “In particular, belly fat is a major risk factor for heart disease. If you are a woman with a waist circumference that is more than 35 inches you are at higher risk of developing heart disease and also metabolic syndrome, which is a group of risk factors associated with excessive belly weight. About a fifth to a quarter of Americans are affected by metabolic syndrome. “Other risk factors are having fasting blood triglycerides over 150 mg, or a low good cholesterol (HDL) count,” says Dr. Croft. “Taking care of metabolic syndrome is important because it is associated with co-morbidities like sleep apnea. The treatment options for reducing belly fat and preventing metabolic syndrome are simply exercise and diet.”
6. Don’t Smoke
Smoking cigarettes is hazardous to your heart health, your heart’s arteries, and your overall vascular system’s health. That’s why vascular medicine experts are urging the almost 17 percent of women who still smoke to not smoke cigarettes, or kick the habit immediately by joining a smoking cessation program. “Smoking decreases the strength of your artery walls. In fact, smoking tobacco is the number one risk factor for women to develop atherosclerosis and vascular diseases such as dangerous aneurysms, carotid artery disease, or peripheral arterial disease which is blockages in their arms and legs,” says Ageliki G. Vouyouka, MD, Associate Professor of the Division of Vascular Surgery in the Department of Surgery at The Mount Sinai Hospital. “To lower your risk of developing vascular disease or stop it from progressing don’t smoke. Often, aneurysms have no signs or symptoms before they strike, and smoking can make them get larger and rupture.”
7. Only One Alcoholic Beverage Per Day
To be heart healthy, the American Heart Association recommends no more than one drink per day for women (if you drink at all) whether it’s a glass of wine, beer, shot of alcohol, or a mixed cocktail drink. “Alcohol in moderation is very important to preserve your overall heart health every day and throughout your lifetime,” says Dr. McLaughlin of Mount Sinai. “Women who may be drinking more than the recommended one drink per day limit, or binge drinking on the weekends, really need to be aware of the potential health effects.” Drinking excessively or binge drinking can increase your blood pressure, triglycerides (fats in your blood), increase your heart rate or cause dangerous heart rhythms, and can even lead to heart failure or cause a stroke. “Plus, even a light beer can have about 100 calories a pop, and wine has a great deal of complex sugars. Drinking excessively can lead to increased calorie consumption, unhealthy weight gain or even obesity, and may even increase your risk of developing diabetes,” says Dr. McLaughlin. “So after one drink switch to water or seltzer with lemon or lime and a straw. Don’t worry, no one will notice and at the same time you will be preserving your heart’s health which matters most.”
8. Know Your Individual Risk Factors
Every woman should ask her family members about their history of heart disease or if it developed for their relatives at any early age. “If you have a family history of heart disease, tell your doctor since you’ll need to pay extra attention to your family history as an individual risk factor,” says Icilma Fergus, MD, Director of the Center for Cardiovascular Disparities at Mount Sinai Heart who runs the Harlem Healthy Hearts program. “Also, if you are African American or Hispanic you should know that you are at higher risk for cardiovascular events and stroke than Caucasians, and more likely to have kidney disease and need dialysis in your lifetime.” According to Dr. Fergus the latest new guidelines recommending 150/90 as a blood pressure goal for the general population may not always be applicable to women of color. “It is very important for African American and Hispanic women to know their specific individual risk factors and other risk factors due to possible co-morbidities of metabolic syndrome, stroke, and renal disease. I recommend to many women of color more aggressive health surveillance, treatment of all their risk factors with dual medical therapies if necessary, and close monitoring and treatment to keep their blood pressure goal less than 140/90 range.”
9. Don’t Ignore Shortness of Breath and Swelling in Your Legs
“Congestive heart failure is not just a male disease, it affects women often too,” according to Jill Kalman, MD, Director of the Cardiomyopathy Program at The Mount Sinai Hospital. Heart failure, affecting more than 2.4 million females, is when a person’s heart is too weak to properly pump and circulate blood throughout their body. Its risk factors often include coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, a past heart attack, heart infection or inflammation, heart valve disease, abnormal heart rhythms, congenital heart defects, obesity, diabetes, excessive alcohol use, or kidney disease. “It is important for women to beware of congestive heart failure signs and symptoms which can be sudden or progress overtime slowly as we age. According to Dr. Kalman, the warning signs of heart failure may include coughing, fatigue, shortness of breath, trouble walking long-distances, fluid retention in your lungs, swelling in the feet, ankles, and legs, and also an irregular heartbeat. “Women need to keep the symptoms of heart failure in mind and not ignore them by seeking medical care. Heart failure symptoms can range from mild to severe, but a heart failure specialist can help manage your heart failure symptoms.”
10. Expecting a Baby? Get Screened for Gestational Diabetes
On January 13, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommended all pregnant women should be screened for gestational diabetes. The new guidelines are based on a recent study that showed screening women and controlling their symptoms through diet, exercise, or insulin treatment is associated with reduced pregnancy and delivery complications. “All pregnant women should be screened for gestational diabetes which involves just a single prenatal visit with a two-hour testing with a glucose tolerance test. The screening benefits are extremely useful for the prevention of future clinical events and safety to both the fetus and the mother,” says Roxana Mehran, MD, Director, Interventional Cardiovascular Research and Clinical Trials at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “Pregnancy is a fantastic time to engage women regarding their heart health, because when we become a mother that is when we begin perhaps to care most about ourselves. Once you give birth, it is also a great time to start a heart healthy screening regimen yearly and lifestyle changes. Begin a great diet and exercise program to not only lose the baby fat you have gained during your pregnancy, but also to be more health conscious about your cardiovascular health.”
About the Mount Sinai Health System
The Mount Sinai Health System is an integrated health system committed to providing distinguished care, conducting transformative research, and advancing biomedical education. Structured around seven member hospital campuses and a single medical school, the Health System has an extensive ambulatory network and a range of inpatient and outpatient services—from community-based facilities to tertiary and quaternary care.
The System includes approximately 6,600 primary and specialty care physicians, 12-minority-owned free-standing ambulatory surgery centers, over 45 ambulatory practices throughout the five boroughs of New York City, Westchester, and Long Island, as well as 31 affiliated community health centers. Physicians are affiliated with the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, which is ranked among the top 20 medical schools both in National Institutes of Health funding and by U.S. News & World Report.