Heart disease, cancer and stroke are the leading causes of death in the United States. Heart disease is the number one killer of women.
What’s even more important to note is that these diseases — many versions of them — can be prevented by managing modifiable risk factors associated with their development. It’s idealistic to assume it possible to eradicate occurrences of these diseases, but it is realistic to make concerted efforts to prevent premature death from all of these maladies. So, what can you do to protect your health? Or, better yet, fight for it?
First, know fact from fiction.
• Heart disease is responsible for 161, 698 deaths in women each year.
• Of the women who experience heart attacks, 23 percent die within the first year following the heart attack. This is higher than in men where 18 percent die within the first year of a heart attack.
• Heart disease in women presents differently than in men and, therefore, must be treated differently.
• The majority of research related to cardiovascular disease has been conducted on men or the collected data from studies has not been categorized based on gender. As such, this results in a larger “gray area” for treatment protocols as they are applied to women with heart disease.
• Women suffering from heart disease are not always diagnosed or treated effectively because the signs and symptoms of the disease are different and sometimes “silent.”
• A family history of heart disease does increase one’s risk; however, there are many women who suffer from the disease who have zero family history.
• Fortunately, heart disease is treatable and preventable (this does not necessarily relate to congenital issues affecting the heart).
• You cannot control your family history, gender, age or genetics. That said, you can modify and control risk factors such as activity level, diet, stress, and tobacco and alcohol use.
Second, act intentionally.
February is heart health month and it’s the perfect time to take active steps toward the prevention and treatment of this potentially fatal disease. The most important step to take is to evaluate what your personal level of risk is. See WomenHeart.Org to review important information about personal risk, signs and symptoms, and steps to take to improve and protect your heart’s health.
Third, act now. Make informed decisions and aim for balanced living. This means making clear and clean choices as they relate to daily physical activity, nutritional practices and stress management. The short message is — move more (aim for 150 minutes a week of moderate activity), eat lighter (increase fiber, lean protein, healthy fats and fruits/veggies), and stress less (seek joy, take time for yourself and consciously make efforts to decompress).
The truth of the matter is these diseases are silent much of the time. But the heart of the matter is that they are, with some exceptions, preventable with lifestyle modifications.
Dr. Erin Nitschke is a personal trainer, and ACE Health Coach & Fitness Nutrition Specialist. To contact Nitschke, email her at email@example.com. Center Stage is written by friends of the Senior Center for the Sheridan Community. It is a collection of insights and stories related to living well at every age.