Heart disease is a leading cause of death for women; around four times as many women die from heart disease compared to breast cancer. However, a few changes to your lifestyle can reduce the risk of heart disease.
Coronary heart disease is caused when the coronary arteries prevent the heart from getting enough oxygen and blood. According to the World Health Organization publication “Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease,” it is the world’s leading cause of death, claiming about 30 percent of deaths worldwide. The real tragedy is that many of these deaths are actually preventable.
Know your risk
According to the report, heart disease is becoming a major burden on our health care systems. So, it’s time for us to be proactive, and make some changes to our lifestyles in order to reduce the risk of heart disease. One of the most important things is knowing your risks and getting to know the most common causes for heart disease. You are at high risk if someone in your family has succumbed to this malady and if you are over the age of 50. If you are in this age group ask your doctor to do a risk assessment, which can highlight your chances of developing heart disease.
High blood cholesterol is another major risk factor for heart disease. It’s a good idea to have your cholesterol levels checked every few years. And if your level is deemed to be too high follow a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol. Have your blood pressure checked on a regular basis as well. The same goes for your weight and have it assessed by the BMI (Body Mass Index), which can show the amount of body fat you have. Normal weight is a BMI of around 20 to 25, so if yours is higher again you will need to access your lifestyle.
People who exercise regularly are half as likely to die of cardiac disease than those who don’t. So do some moderate level physical activities for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. But if you have heart symptoms or if you are in the high-risk group you should consult a doctor before starting an exercise programme. You might not be in the high risk group, but if you have any of these warning signs then its high time to get a check-up: chest pain or shortness of breath; back or arm pain, especially on left side, either during exertion or at rest; fast, strong, or irregular heart beats and dizziness or fainting.
Eat well and stop the shisha
Along with healthy weight and regular physical activity, an overall healthy diet can help to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels and prevent heart disease. In the Arab region a healthy diet was mainstream until the fast food chains entered the market. Avoid them and keep on filling your plate with fresh fruits, vegetables and protein, such as pulses and nuts, and, of course, extra virgin olive oil, which contains the good monosaturated fats. This will help keep your blood pressure down and lower levels of cholesterol, a contributor to the formation of artery blocking plaque.
Unfortunately, the popularity of the shisha pipe is on the rise in the Middle East and most people just do not realise this consumption is even more hazardous than smoking cigarettes. Both increase the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease. A person's risk of heart attack decreases soon after quitting, so if you smoke quit today; if you can’t do it alone then ask your doctor to suggest a programme to help you quit the habit.
Be happy in love and eat apples
Last but not least, avoid emotional stress. Of course, in today’s fast paced world this is easier said than done; but, if you are at high risk and you want to live a long healthy life then you need to find ways to reduce stress. Exercising, especially hiking, swimming, yoga and tai chi, are all major stress reducers. Being in a happy relationship can actually protect your heart too, so try to keep the good vibes going in your marriage. And guess what? Eating just a couple of apples a day can help protect against heart disease by reducing cholesterol levels, according to a team of researchers at Florida State University in the US. They wanted to see if eating the equivalent of two apples every day could have a significant effect on heart disease risk. Subsequently, they recruited 160 women who had been through menopause and asked half of them to eat 75 grammes of dried apple a day, the equivalent of two fresh apples. Snacking on the fruit every day for six months slashed cholesterol by almost a quarter. So two apples a day may actually keep the doctor away and heart disease at bay. Munch your way to a happy, healthy heart.
Eat your heart out
One of the best things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease is to eat a healthy diet.
- Eating five plus portions of vegetables or fruits a day is good, eight plus is even better
- Cut back on dairy fat, meat fat and deep-fried foods and include fish instead
- Choose wholegrain breads and high-fibre cereals as well as wholegrain brown rice and pasta
- Include pulses, soy beans and soy products, which contain nutrients that protect the heart and blood vessels
- Consume nuts or seeds, which have the “good” fats
- Drink lots of water, and cut out sodas, especially the diet ones
- Always check labels for sodium content. If the salt level is higher than 450mg/100g don’t buy the product
Here is a simple test, which every woman can do at home. If your body is a so-called “apple” shape, a typical shape for Middle Eastern women who tend to carry weight around the waist rather than on hips, bottom and thighs, then you have a greater risk of heart disease. Measure your waist and if it more than 80cm and your waist is bigger than your hips then it’s time to make some changes in your diet and to incorporate exercise into your every day life.
Top risk factors for women
If your answer is “yes” to most of the below then you are in the high risk group for heart disease.
- Are you over 55?
- Do you smoke?
- Are you overweight?
- Do you have high blood pressure?
- Do you have high cholesterol?
- Do you have a family history of heart disease?
- Do you have diabetes?
- Do you have angina?
3 simple rules for prevention of heart disease
- Exercise for 30 minutes a day
- Eat lots of fruit and vegetables and avoid processed food
- Don’t smoke