This month the American Heart Association launched GO RED FOR WOMEN, a nationwide campaign to raise public awareness that heart disease kills one in every three American Women. That means it is the number one killer of American women, claiming almost 500,000 lives annually. Heart disease kills more women than cancer. Heart disease or cardiovascular disease (CVD) is well known to most families as heart attack and stroke. People generally think that the occurrence of heart attacks or strokes is associated with older adults and grandparents. Rarely do they happen to younger adults under the age of 40.
Some may even accept these problems as a normal part of getting older. So, is this article for your parents or grandparents? No. Medical research now reports that heart attacks and strokes are the end result of years of general health habits plus genetics. Some of these studies clearly show that a woman’s individual chance of developing a heart attack or stroke can begin to increase as early as the teen years. Whatever a woman’s age, she needs to take action to protect her heart health.
Young women: Physical activity levels drop sharply as girls become teenagers. School and work decrease the free time available for exercise. Drivers licenses decrease the need to walk or bike. The top athletes make the team in middle school and high school and the average, recreational athletes have fewer choices for organized team play. Think about how different a day is here at WCU compared to early high school. Did you play sports? Were you busy with clubs and activities after school? How much time did you spend sitting or watching TV during your physical activity level and eating habits are quite different in college compared to early high school or even middle school.
And after college you get a job and your day is even less flexible. Weight rises with decreased activity. Blood pressure rises with increasing weight. Diabetes increases with increasing weight. High blood pressure, excess weight, and physical inactivity are three risk factors for CVD that you can take action against now.
Tobacco industry marketing, including product design, advertising, and promotional activities in the last ten years is a major factor accounting for the fact that smoking has decreased very little in women and actually increased in teen girls in the 1990s.
The tobacco industry has aligned itself with sporting events, the arts, and cinema to present a cleaner, nicer public image. Yet it has designed a campaign that specifically targets teens, women and now females in developing countries, (specifically Asian women), as a growth market for their products.
These are just distractions meant to downplay the real facts: Smoking causes heart disease. Smoking makes using birth control pills and patches more dangerous. Smoking decreases a woman’s fertility, increases the risk of having a pap problem, makes the skin look 10 years older, and lots more.
Middle aged women: Advice for your mom:
Your mom is approaching the age where lifetime habits cause treatable medical problems that may give no physical symptoms that she is aware of. Have her get a routine physical exam which would include weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol and a diabetes test. If she smokes, encourage her to discuss makes the skin look ten years older, and lots more.
Middle aged women: Advice for your mom: Your mom is approaching the age where lifetime habits cause treatable medical problems that may give no physical symptoms that she is aware of. Have her get a routine physical exam which would include weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol and a diabetes test. If she smokes, encourage her to discuss a personal plan for smoking cessation with her doctor. Tell her there are medications to help her quit.
If inactive, encourage her to start an exercise program. If advised to return for follow-up, ask her if she returned. Is she taking her medications for blood pressure and cholesterol? Tell your mom about getting a private, individualized heart risk assessment from the American Heart Association website: www.americanheart.org.
Tips for a healthy life for women of all ages: an apple a day. Eating five or more fruits and vegetables a day and decreasing the amount of animal fat (butter/red meat/whole milk) is proven to decrease cholesterol and weight.
No time to diet? There are 3,500 calories in every pound. If you could eliminate 500 calories per day from your usual diet, you would lose one pound a week per 52 pounds a year…guaranteed. That’s not dieting, thats just making choices. Calories are listed on every soda, drink, beer, snack and food that you buy. Sodas have 150 to 200 calories a can. One soda a day is 25 to 30 pounds a year. One Snapple a day is 36 pounds per year. Ten beers a week is 22 lbs a year. Ten mixed drinks a week is 15 pounds a year. Ten wine coolers a week adds up to 32 pounds a year. One bottle of water is zero calories and zero pounds/yr. One snack bag of chips a day is 20 pounds a year. Consider diet beverages, light beer, less alcohol and different snacks such as baked crackers. Small changes can add up to big pounds in a year. Juices are often sweetened and have even more calories than soda! A nutritionist at the Health Center that could help you with an individualized diet plan. We can review your typical food choices and give you an idea where you are really adding up calories. There is lots of help on line such as: www.americanheart.org, www.chowbaby.com, or www.caloriesperhour.com. Want to do it yourself? Start reading the labels for calorie content… compare…choose the least calorie brand that you enjoy. Eliminate or decrease the products that have a lot of calories. Over time it adds up to pounds.
Get moving: For adults, 30 minutes of daily exercise is recommended. It doesn’t take a lot of time or money, just commitment. Start slowly and get a buddy. Pick something you enjoy – intramurals, club sports, walking, biking. Exercise makes you feel good and lowers blood pressure and cholesterol. It is guaranteed to give you a better night sleep and decrease your feelings of stress. It’s a habit to start now and continue into adulthood.
Be smoke free: Only one out of five U.S. women smokes cigarettes. That means that 80 percent of women don’t smoke. Statistically, if you have not started smoking by the end of college, you probably won’t ever start. Only 11 percent of female college graduates smoke. But, once you start to smoke it is very difficult to stop. Easy to suggest, hard to do. Smoking triples your risk of dying from heart disease. If you’ve tried to quit but can’t, the Health Center has Free Nicoderm patches and a smoke cessation program for you. Our wellness center sponsors hypnosis and other smoking cessation programs. Make an appointment.
Once a heart attack or stroke occurs, damage is done and life is never the same. Prevention started early is proven to decrease your risks. The first step in prevention is to know you are at risk. Spread the word: If you are female the most likely way that you will die is from cardiovascular disease. You can delay and prevent it by starting now to exercise regularly, maintain a normal weight, and eat a nutritious diet.