Although heart disease is often viewed as a “man’s disease”, it is still the leading cause of death for women in the United States, according to the Center for Disease Control. This silent killer takes a woman’s life every 80 seconds.
While men are certainly at higher risk of developing some form of heart disease (be it a heart attack or stroke), it’s still very prevalent in women. So, why are they often treated as separate things?
For starters, heart attacks often manifest differently in women. Where a heart attack in men is primarily characterized by severe chest pain, this is not usually a symptom for women. In lieu of chest pain, women may experience jaw pain or abdominal discomfort. Due to the less popularized symptoms, heart disease can often go overlooked in women.
As a result, it’s crucial to address women’s heart health, and how to ensure it with healthy practices throughout life.
While the risk factors for heart disease in men tend to center around obesity, excessive alcohol intake, and other lifestyle decisions, this isn’t as often the case in women. Women are disproportionately affected by emotional and reproductive risk factors, such as:
- Complications during pregnancy
- Mental stress and depression
- Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (also known as broken heart syndrome)
Thus, women are far more inclined to practice mental and emotional balance as a preventative measure. One activity that helps with this is meditation, which has been proven to lower stress and anxiety levels when practiced regularly.
If women make an effort to sit and meditate for at least 10 minutes a day, thus eliciting a “relaxation response” due to the deep breathing techniques, they could decrease their risk for cardiovascular problems later in life.
Get plenty of sleep
Women are two to three times more likely to suffer from sleep deprivation than men are. This is especially common after menopause, when sleep apnea can often kick in. Insufficient sleep can seriously impact heart health, as it increases the risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes.
If you’re a woman and insomnia is a long-term presence in your life, consider making strong efforts to lessen it. This could mean establishing self-care routines before bed that induce tiredness (hot shower/bath, meditation, no TV) or pursuing sleep therapy.
Eat a balanced diet
As women, we’re always ready to take on the world as a balancing act. Between working, exercising, maintaining a social life, and tending to the household, we often sacrifice our own needs. This means we don’t always make time for healthy and nutritious eating habits when we should.
A balanced diet goes a long way toward preventing obesity and clogged arteries, so women should avoid foods that are high in:
- Trans fats
Instead, women should swap out red meat for white meat, processed sugars for fruit, and incorporate more fish in their diet. The Omega-3s in fish are not only essential for heart health, but for women’s health in general, as their anti-inflammatory properties can ease menstrual cramps and reduce mood swings/depression.
Eliminate belly fat
Women have an eternal love/hate relationship with their lovehandles. Unfortunately, the way to feel about them isn’t always in the name. Not only do we struggle with tummy fat for how it looks, but for how it affects our heart health as well.
According to Marie Savard, MD, women who carry their weight around their middle (as opposed to their butt, hips, or thighs) are at an increased risk for heart disease. Fortunately, it’s the easiest fat to lose, and there are a number of ways to do so.
- Eat a low-carb, high-protein diet
- Limit alcohol intake
- Reduce stress levels (cortisol spurs on belly fat)
- Engage in cardio exercise
- Cook with coconut oil instead
- Incorporate more soluble fiber
Be your own advocate
Since women’s heart disease symptoms can differ so much from men’s, their concerns can often be easily dismissed. It’s crucial that you advocate for the medical attention you deserve when you feel like your concerns have not been properly addressed.
Since heart attack symptoms can mirror those of panic attacks, which are far more common in women, heart disease symptoms can sometimes be attributed to anxiety. Do your due diligence by requesting an EKG or heart monitoring to alleviate your worry and rule out more serious health concerns.
Optimal heart health starts on a personal basis, and it’s a balance between positive habits and awareness. Equipping ourselves with knowledge about women’s heart health is half the work for preventing heart disease.
Ellie Batchiyska is a health and wellness writer for Stethoscope.com. Her expertise lies in holistic approaches for optimizing heart health and mental well-being.