#DolphinsLiveWell: The Beat Goes On

#DolphinsLiveWell: The Beat Goes On

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), heart disease is the NO. 1 killer of women today. It is more deadly than all cancers combined. It accounts for one in three deaths per year for women, with one woman dying every second from complications of heart disease. In spite of this data, women lag behind in advocating for themselves regarding cardiac health.

Typical symptoms of a heart attack are chest/arm pain, nausea, shortness of breath and sweating. But women often suffer from a heart attack without the classic symptoms. Many women often report only shoulder, back or jaw pain. They may experience fatigue, indigestion or a sense of dread but no chest pain at all.  Consequently, they wait longer to be treated (the average delay for women is 54 hours) or they may not seek medical care at all.

Cardiac care is more likely to be initiated when obvious signs of a heart attack occur. Immediate action can limit the extent of heart damage and significantly increases the chances of survival. Failure to treat even a mild heart attack can lead to more heart damage or death because the patient may not receive the medications and treatments that are necessary.    

A long-term heart health awareness plan is imperative for everyone.  The first step in promoting heart health is preventing heart disease by recognizing your cardiac risk factors. Major risk factors that you have no control of are increasing age, male gender and heredity. But there are many ways to manage or modify your behaviors to increase heart health.

Don’t smoke! There are multiple chemicals in cigarettes that have a wide range of negative effects on the body. Nicotine, including E-cigs, causes lasting damage to the blood vessels.

Be aware of your “numbers.” An ideal blood pressure should be <120/80. Cholesterol levels should fall below 180mg/dL. Strive for a normal weight range, bearing in mind, that additional weight at the midline can add stress on the heart. Waist size goals are <35” for women, <40” men.  A Fasting Blood Sugar goal of <100mg/dL is preferred.

Dietary choices are important. Limit processed food. When snacking, reach for foods like nuts, fruits and vegetables. Sugar intake should also be limited. Choose water rather than soda or energy drinks, plain coffee rather than a latte. Studies suggest that one alcoholic beverage per day, especially red wine, can be beneficial.   Include foods high in omega fatty acids like fish, avocado, and nuts as well as flavonoids like dark chocolate.  Don’t forget the fiber! It is fine to have dietary treats as they certainly add joy to life. The goal is not deprivation. Moderation is the key!

Stress management is essential. Too much stress or chronic low level stress can damage the blood vessels.   Treat yourself to a daily laugh.

Invest in good friendships and be socially engaged. Limit screen time! Express your emotions constructively, rather than bottling up your feelings. Identify calming behaviors like meditation, prayer or music. Find a dog or cat to pet! Plan your day allowing time for proper study/work time, exercise and get a good night’s sleep.  A healthy, respectful sex life can add to stress reduction as well.

And exercise again! The current recommendation is 30 to 60 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five days per week. Choose an exercise program that is varied and interesting. Try to break a sweat when working out.  Studies suggest that a combination of moderate and vigorous activity is most beneficial. Remember, any physical activity that makes you move burns calories. Even a good fast walk to class can help.