In 1999 the American Heart Association (AHA) published a set of guidelines for heart disease prevention in women and revised them in 2011. What follows are the newer guidelines are based on clinical trials that examined the protective efficacy of lifestyle measures and drugs:
1. Quit smoking; avoid second-hand smoke. The worst thing you can do to your heart and your other organs, and those of persons around you is to smoke. Smoking causes about two-thirds of heart attacks among young and middle-aged women, and if you smoke while taking birth control pills, your risk is even higher.
No level of smoking is safe. The bad news: The risk of heart attack rises with every cigarette smoked daily.
The good news: Your risk of heart attack is reduced the minute you quit smoking.
2. Know your blood pressure; keep it under control. A blood pressure (hypertension) test may well be the cheapest, simplest and most valuable medical test of all. More black women have hypertension than white women and tend to develop it about 10 years sooner than white women.
Early awareness of prehypertension coupled with attention to exercise, diet, weight control and drugs, if needed, can help you keep it from developing into full-blown hypertension.
3. Know your blood cholesterol levels; keep them in a healthy range. Optimal LDL (“bad”) levels are less than 100 mg/dL, and acceptable levels are less than 130.
Optimal levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol for women should be at least 50, compared to 40 for men.
Total cholesterol levels should be less than 200.
Diet and exercise can improve your levels.
4. Have your blood sugar level checked; control it if it’s high. Women with diabetes or with prediabetes are at greater risk for heart attack and stroke than are men with those conditions. You can control your blood sugar through diet, weight loss, exercise and, if needed, medication.
5. Eat a heart-healthy diet. Include plenty of fruits, vegetables, (dried) beans, whole grains and low-calorie dairy products. Eat oily fish two or three times a week for their omega-3 fats. Keep portions of lean meats, such as skinless poultry breast and well-trimmed cuts of other meats, small.
Avoid trans fats and saturated fats, but eat moderate amounts of unsaturated fats found in nuts, seeds, avocado and vegetable oils.
Eat sparingly of sugary foods and refined carbohydrates, such as white potatoes, bread and pasta.
6. Cut back on sodium to reduce risk of hypertension and stroke. For people over 50, for all blacks and those with hypertension, diabetes or kidney disease, the recommendation is a daily limit of just 1,500 milligrams.
Others should aim for less than 2,300 milligrams.
All this translates into your having to cut way back on processed foods, restaurant meals and fast foods.
7. Stay active. For heart benefits, walk briskly or do some other aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes most days of the week. Current recommendations are for a total of 150 minutes per week.
You may want to assess your 10-year risk of having a heart attack based on your age, gender, cholesterol levels and blood pressure at the government’s National Cholesterol Education Program at http://www.tinyurl.com/risktool
SOURCE: University of CA, Berkeley Wellness Letter, Special Winter Issue, 2012 American Heart Association
Coming up: 7 More Heart-healthy Tips for Women