We now know that heart disease isn’t something that just men should be concerned and worry about. Every year, heart disease is the single biggest cause of death in the US, with women being close to the same number of men.

The big reasons for heart disease risks are the same for both women and men. These factors are diabetes, high blood pressure, physical inactivity and smoking. Depression is a risk factor that affects more women than men. However, there are also issues that only affect women, like preecamplsia during pregnancy and endometriosis.

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So what can women do to protect their hearts?

  1. Eat a heart-healthy diet

A heart-healthy diet is composed of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, omega-3 rich fatty fish, and a limited intake of sugar and saturated and trans fats. You should also drink plenty of water and stay hydrated.

  1. Control cholesterol

When cholesterol is under control, you are keeping your arteries clear of blockages which keeps your heart healthy. Your cholesterol levels should total under 200 mg/dL with LDL: under 100 mg/dL; HDL: over 60 mg/dL and triglycerides: under 150 mg/dL.

  1. Manage blood pressure

Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. When your blood pressure stays within a healthy range, you reduce the strain on your heart and arteries. A healthy blood pressure is under 120/80 mmHg.

  1. Lose weight

If you have too much fat, especially at your waistline, you’re at a higher risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Even losing 5-10 pounds can reduce blood pressure dramatically. However, there are women who are thin and still have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol because they have it in their family history. Someone can have a normal body mass index (BMI), but still have high amounts of visceral fat. This type of fat is particularly dangerous to the heart. A measurement higher than 35 inches suggests a greater risk of heart disease.

  1. Be physically active

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five times per week to lower risks for heart disease or stroke. Brisk walking is a great option at any age.

  1. Control diabetes

Adults with diabetes are two to four times more likely to die from heart disease than adults without diabetes. People with diabetes, especially type 2 diabetes, often have other risks for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, obesity, high blood pressure and/or physical inactivity.

  1. Reduce stress/treat loneliness and depression

The risk for heart disease increases if someone is depressed, lonely or feels overly stressed. Some stress-reducing strategies include exercise, adequate sleep, and relaxation techniques like yoga and meditation. Seeing a mental health professional to discuss your depression and possible treatment can be very beneficial.

  1. Get both adequate and quality sleep

Sleep deprivation can increase blood sugar levels and elevate blood pressure. People who get five or fewer hours of sleep per night have 50 percent more calcium in their coronary arteries which is an early marker of heart disease. And it’s not just how much you sleep, but how well you sleep. People who have frequent interrupted sleep may have sleep apnea which is also linked to cardiovascular disease.

  1. Be aware of pregnancy risks

If a women had high blood pressure, gestational diabetes or preeclampsia during pregnancy, they are at a greater risk of heart disease.

  1. Stop smoking

Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing heart disease. Your chance of having a heart attack doubles if you smoke as few as one to four cigarettes per day. Even if you don’t smoke, regular exposure to secondhand smoke will increase your risk. Females who smoke have a 25% high risk of developing cardiovascular disease than male smokers. Smoking not only causes a higher risk for heart disease, but general good health.

  1. Know the warning signs of a cardiovascular event

Even though chest pain is the number-one symptom of a heart attack, women don’t always suffer crushing chest pain like men do. If you are having chest pain or trouble breathing you should call 911. If you are experiencing any of the below warning symptoms, make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as possible.

  • Tightness, heaviness, or a squeezing sensation in your chest or back
  • Tingling down one or both arms or legs
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Jaw pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Racing heart
  • Dizziness
  • nausea/vomiting (if experiencing with another symptom above)

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