3 ways to keep your heart healthy

3 Smart Ways to Boost Your Heart Health

By Talya Spivack, MD, Cardiologist—Virtua Cardiology

The heart is the hardest working muscle in your body. If you live to be 100 years old, it will have beat more than 3 billion times. But even with this great strength, your heart is extremely vulnerable to the effects of lifestyle choices and genetics. In fact, heart disease kills more U.S. women than Alzheimer’s, all cancers, AND accidents combined.

Here's some wholehearted know-how for keeping your heart healthy and strong. 

Know your risk

Many of the risk factors for women are the same as those for men, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Known peripheral vascular disease
  • Family history of heart disease or heart attacks

However, pregnancy can provide critical information about a woman’s future cardiac and metabolic health. Compared to the average woman, women who have had gestational diabetes, pre-eclampsia, or gestational hypertension have approximately double the risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event in the 5-15 years after pregnancy. This is an opportunity for women to take control and modify their behavior years ahead of that critical period.

Know the symptoms

Heart attack symptoms for women are similar to men’s, including crushing chest pressure or a squeezing sensation in the middle of the chest (especially pressure that worsens during exercise). However, women can experience some unusual heart attack warning signs that should not be overlooked, including:

  • Pain in the neck, jaw or arms that lasts more than a minute and doesn’t go away or gets worse
  • Shortness of breath
  • Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness

If you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible for evaluation. If you think you're having a heart attack, it's important to call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.

Know how to keep your heart healthy

The media has brought a great deal of attention to the importance of exercise and maintaining good eating habits for a healthy heart. However, the American Heart Association encourages people to take action to prevent heart disease with this advice:

Get active
Walk briskly for 30 minutes a day five times a week, or engage in 75 minutes of intense exercise per week. For variety, check out fun aerobic and group class options available at local gyms and studios.

Stop smoking
As soon as two weeks after quitting cold turkey, your heart attack risk decreases. You can read about how quickly your heart (and entire body) recovers after quitting by visiting whyquit.com. For help to quit smoking, Virtua offers smoking cessation classes and support at locations across South Jersey. 

Eat well
Your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol and weight all can be controlled by eating a healthy diet. Eat plenty of veggies, fruits, low-fat dairy, fiber-rich whole grains, and lean meats (particularly fish, twice a week). Avoid or limit the intake of:

  • Saturated fats (found in fast food, meats, and rich dairy products like cheese, butter, and ice cream)
  • Trans-fatty acids (found in commercial baked goods, fast food, and some butter substitutes)
  • Cholesterol (highest in red meat, fried and fast food, lobster, and liver)
  • Alcohol
  • Sugar
  • Sodium

Make your heart health a priority

Do you need a partner in caring for your heart? Call 1-888-847-8823 to schedule an appointment with a Virtua cardiologist

Updated October 15, 2019

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