HEART TRUTH ACTION STEPS FOR WOMEN
Smoking more than triples a woman's chances of having a heart attack. If you quit, that risk is cut in half within two years; after 10 years, the odds return to nearly normal.
Carrying excess fat, especially around the middle, increases your risk of a heart attack or stroke. Obesity can also lead to diabetes, a major risk factor. Doctors recommend a reduced-calorie diet with lots of vegetables and whole grains, plus at least 30 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise a day.
Elevated lipids—cholesterol and triglycerides—are important risk factors. Although doctors have traditionally focused on levels of LDL (bad cholesterol), HDL (good cholesterol) may be a better predictor of heart-disease risk in women. Women should maintain HDL at levels as high as possible.
Control Blood Pressure
Hypertension makes the heart work harder to move blood through the body, and more than half of women over 45 have it—putting them at higher risk of both heart disease and stroke. If you get short of breath when you exert yourself, don't ignore it; tell your doctor. And if you have high blood pressure, treat it with proper diet, exercise and medication if needed.
Don't Count on Hormones
Hormones protect younger women against heart disease, but as we now know, hormone replacements do not protect postmenopausal women—and can actually increase the risk for women who have already had a heart attack. Birth-control pills are safe unless you are over 35 and smoke or have high blood pressure.
Chronic stress can increase the risk of heart disease and lead to unhealthy habits like smoking, abusing alcohol and eating junk food. Exercise, yoga and meditation can reduce stress; so can getting enough sleep every night. If you are depressed, get support or treatment as necessary.