National Wear Red Day, Friday, Feb. 3, draws attention to women’s heart health and some of the increased risks that women face.
According to statistics by the American Heart Association, “Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, taking more lives than all forms of cancer combined.”
Further, a 2012 study indicates that women’s heart disease awareness is on the rise, but there are still many misconceptions that can worsen the risks.
“It’s a man’s disease,” “but I’m too young,” “breast cancer is the real threat” are some of the common perceptions women have about heart disease, yet “while one in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, heart disease claims the lives of one in three. That’s roughly one death each minute,” according to the AHA.
Other myths include heart disease doesn’t affect women who are fit, I’m OK because I am asymptomatic and there’s nothing I can do about heart disease.
According to the AHA, even athletic women still have risk factors for heart disease.
“Factors like cholesterol, eating habits and smoking can counterbalance your other healthy habits. You can be thin and have high cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends you start getting your cholesterol checked at age 20, or earlier, if your family has a history of heart disease. And while you’re at it, be sure to keep an eye on your blood pressure at your next check-up.”
Statistics show that 64 percent of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms.
Symptoms vary greatly between men and women, so they’re often misunderstood. Women are somewhat more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting and back or jaw pain. Other symptoms women should look out for are dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue.
Although women with a family history of heart disease are at higher risk, there are many steps you can do take to dramatically reduce the risk. The AHA suggests starting early in life addressing heart health.
Know your numbers
Know the numbers that impact your heart health. This will make it easier to spot a possible change in the future. Your goal should be less than 200 mg of total cholesterol intake daily, and strive for a blood pressure reading of 120/80 mm Hg or less. Visit your doctor so you know your numbers and take the Go Red Heart CheckUp to further assess your risk.
Check your family history.
It’s important to learn if family members have had heart disease or risk factors. Make a point to talk with your doctor and see what you can do to decrease your risk of developing heart disease.
According to the AHA, “Smoking increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by two to four times. Also, women who smoke have a 25 percent higher risk of developing heart disease as compared to men who smoke.
Yet quitting greatly reduces the risk of heart disease. Within a year the risk of is cut in half and continues to decline.
Over indulging in alcohol can cause a spike in blood pressure, and in some cases cause heart failure and lead to a stroke.
For women, moderate drinking is no more than one drink per day or one shot of liquor, 4 oz. of wine or a 12 oz. beer.
Choose birth control carefully
Some oral contraceptives along with other birth control options can cause an increase in blood pressure.
The AHA suggests, “If you can safely use an alternative method that doesn’t put your health at risk, consider the advantages.”
Eat balanced, healthy meals
Eating healthy means having balanced meals with plenty of nutrients from foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as proteins and dairy. Train your taste buds now to enjoy healthy foods to prevent excess weight gain that can increase your heart risk as you age. The American Heart Association recommends the following consumption of foods:
Fruits and vegetables: At least 4.5 cups a day
Fish (preferably oily fish, like salmon): At least two 3.5-ounce servings a week
Fiber-rich whole grains: At least three 1-ounce servings a day
Nuts, legumes and seeds: At least four servings a week, opting for unsalted varieties whenever possible
It is also important to minimize sodium and saturated fats, and to avoid processed meats and sugary drinks to maintain a heart-healthy diet.
Exercise three to four times per week
The AHA recommends 40 minutes of exercise three to four times per week, according to its new guidelines. Brisk walking, jogging and workout routines you can do at home or with friends all help accomplish your physical fitness goals.
Why wear red?
In 2003, the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute started working to raise awareness of heart disease.
Stemming from that action was National Wear Red Day, held annually on the first Friday in February every year to raise awareness about heart disease being the No. 1 killer of women.
“Ask any stylist, job coach or dating expert and they’ll tell you that red stands out. Eyes are immediately drawn to it. Some even say that the color red is a confidence booster and makes you feel powerful. Maybe that’s why we chose the color red to signify our fight against the No. 1 killer in women. Maybe it’s just a coincidence that it’s also the color of our hearts,” writes Go Red for Women’s website.