Heart disease is a term used to describe a range of conditions that affect the heart, including coronary artery disease, heart attacks, heart failure, and arrhythmias. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, lack of physical activity, poor diet, and a family history of heart disease. Certain medical conditions, such as diabetes, can also increase the risk of heart disease. It is often called the silent killer because many people don’t know they have it until they’re in the midst of a cardiac event. Even then, they may not recognize the signs and symptoms of an attack. Classic symptoms of pain in the chest and arm are often present in men, but women can have more subtle symptoms. Nausea, shortness of breath and back or jaw pain are all symptoms of a heart attack in women. Unfortunately, these symptoms are also all easily mistaken for other medical issues. According to one study, more than 60% of female participants had more than three non-chest pain symptoms. And 53% of female participants said their health care providers didn’t think the symptoms were heart related.1
Not only are heart symptoms harder to identify in women, but cultural factors can also make women less likely to react to them. Women often adopt the role of caregiver, prioritizing the needs of others and downplaying their own health needs. However, it is always important to remember that caring for yourself, however that manifests, is not selfish. It could be spending time with friends, doing something you enjoy or just soaking in a hot bath. It’s also getting your preventive health care, noticing new symptoms, and acting on them if they appear. There is a reason why, in airline safety demonstrations, they say put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. If you are not safe and healthy yourself, you can’t successfully care for others.
So how can we take care of ourselves when it comes to our hearts? By adopting a healthy lifestyle, managing medical conditions, and seeking prompt medical attention if symptoms arise, women can reduce their risk of heart disease and maintain a healthy heart. Here are some tips that can help.
- Choose heart-healthy foods: whole grains, fruits and vegetables and lean proteins. Avoid foods high in salt, sugar and saturated fat.
- Get your heart pumping with at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking, cycling, swimming, or dancing most days of the week.
- Limit alcohol and quit smoking. Your doctor can help and you can also find free resources at smokefree.gov.
- Look for ways to manage your stress, like yoga, meditation or a hobby you enjoy. And aim for 7-9 hours of good quality sleep each night.
- Get regular check-ups. Your doctor can spot early warning signs of heart disease and help you work to correct them.
- For ActiveHealth members, go to our secure member site, MyActiveHealth.com, for more information about making heart-healthy changes.
One last tip – spend time with people you care about. Strong relationships and a supportive community can play a significant role in maintaining a healthy heart. Studies have shown that women with strong social support have a reduced risk of heart disease, while social isolation can increase the risk.2 So, make sure to surround yourself with positive, supportive friends and family and nurture those relationships.
Taking care of yourself in mind, body, and spirit is the best way to ensure that you’ll be around to care for the people you love when they need it. In a way, taking care of your own heart is a beautiful act of love!
1Healthline.com. Bahl, R. Doctors Missed Heart Attack Signs in Women 50% of the Time. September 18, 2018. Available here. Accessed December 23, 2022.
2Golaszewski NM, LaCroix AZ, Godino JG, et al. Evaluation of Social Isolation, Loneliness, and Cardiovascular Disease Among Older Women in the US. JAMA Netw Open. 2022;5(2):e2146461. Available here. Accessed February 1, 2023.
This is not medical advice or intended to be a substitution for proper medical advice given by a licensed provider.