Reducing Your Risk
Ultimately, the best medicine is prevention and early detection. At Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, patients have access to the expertise of the Heart Center for Women along with the world’s premier hypertension clinic and a state-of-the art Preventive Cardiology Center.
These are some easy steps you can take to reducing your risk of heart disease. Though the list is long, many of these steps act on each other in a positive way. For instance, regular exercise can lower your blood pressure, control your weight and reduce stress; it can even affect your blood cholesterol levels.
- Quit smoking tobacco or using tobacco products – Quitting tobacco dramatically decreases your likelihood of suffering a heart attack. The risk declines within months of quitting and falls to that of nonsmokers within five years. Remember also to avoid situations where you’ll be exposed to secondhand smoke.
- Be active – Regular moderate intensity exercise for 30 minutes on most, if not all, days of the week. (If you can’t do 30 minutes all at once, it can be done in 10 minute or more increments adding up to 30 minutes.)
- Maintain a healthy weight – If you are already at a healthy weight, maintain your weight. If you are overweight, lose weight. The best way to lose weight is gradually through a healthful reduced-calorie diet and exercise. You should avoid diet pills, since they may contain stimulants that may be harmful.
- Control your blood pressure – Regular exercise, a healthful diet (that controls your weight and supplies plenty of potassium, magnesium, fiber and calcium) and reducing your intake of salt and alcohol can help control your blood pressure. If you’ve been prescribed medication to control your blood pressure, take it consistently as directed.
- Control your blood cholesterol levels – Regular exercise, a healthful diet (that supplies plenty of nutrients while reducing cholesterol and saturated fat) and losing weight can help control your blood cholesterol. If you’ve been prescribed medication to control your blood cholesterol levels, take it consistently as directed.
- Eat a healthful diet – A diet low in cholesterol, saturated fats, salt and other sodium that is high in fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help you maintain your weight, while helping lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. A helpful eating plan is the DASH plan. While the goal of the DASH plan is to help control blood pressure, it can also be used to help you loose or maintain your weight. For more information on the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) plan, see the Web site of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
- Reduce your stress levels – Exercise, meditation and relaxation and breathing techniques can help reduce stress.
- Control your blood sugar levels, if you have diabetes – Effectively controlling your blood sugar levels can reduce your heart disease risk.
- Know your numbers – Keeping track of your blood pressure and cholesterol levels (and for people with diabetes, your blood sugar levels) can help you see that your prevention efforts are paying off. Charting your progress can help you reach your goals. Also, knowing these numbers helps your doctor evaluate whether or not you may need medication to help maintain optimum levels.
It is estimated that over 80 percent of heart attacks, strokes and diabetes in women are preventable by lifestyle modifications. Unfortunately, there are some risk factors that cannot be controlled:
- Age – women 55 years or older are at higher risk (men 45 years or older are at higher risk) One in nine deaths among women aged 45 to 64 is from cardiovascular disease. The rate increases to one in three for women 65 and older.
- Family history of early heart disease – mother or sister affected before age 65; father or brother affected before age 55