You can lower your risks for heart disease

True or false: Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women.

Answer: True! While more men than women die of heart disease, it’s the leading cause of death for all Americans, including women.

Each February the American Heart Association holds the “Go Red for Women” campaign. Go Red works to raise awareness and inspire women to build their heart’s health.

Heart disease risk factors

Eight out of 10 women ages 40-60 have at least one risk factor for heart disease. According to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute, having one or more health condition increases the risk of heart disease.

African Americans have higher risk of heart disease. That may be genetic or environmental, or both. Access to a safe place to exercise, quality health care and healthy food play a role in heart health. “Your ZIP code is more important than your genetic code,” says cardiologist Dr. Eldrin Lewis.

We can control many of our environmental risks for heart disease by taking one or more of these steps.

  1. Quit smoking
    If you smoke, quitting is the best way to improve your heart’s health. Quitting will lower your blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol, and put you on a path towards better health.
  2. Steer clear of second-hand smoke
    Breathing someone else’s tobacco smoke increases your risk for heart and lung disease.
  3. Know your numbers
    Your “heart health numbers” include your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. Schedule a well-woman visit with your primary care provider. Find out your numbers. Then talk with your health team about ways to improve them if needed.
  4. Avoid processed foods
    About 75 percent of the salt in our diet comes has been added to processed and restaurant foods. Read labels on frozen foods, bread and pasta. Choose whole, fresh fruits and vegetables when you can.
  5. Get moving
    Just 30 minutes a day, five days a week, is enough to made a difference in your numbers. Or, break it into 10-minute chunks - take a walk after lunch and dinner. Use the stairs instead of the elevator. Dance to your favorite iTunes playlist.
  6. Know your family history
    Talk with other family members to see who has had heart disease. Then talk with your primary care provider about what this history means to you and your family.
  7. Get your family on board
    Your loved ones are watching you. Making even the smallest change to improve your health may inspire your family to join you.

If all this sounds like familiar advice, that’s because the same steps also work to lower your risks for high blood pressure and cholesterol, and diabetes. So you are protecting more than your heart. You are also lowering the risk of damage to your brain from stroke, and your organs and limbs from the long-term effects of diabetes.

Spread the word

Talk to your family and friends about your risks of heart disease and steps you are taking. They can be your allies in making lifestyle changes and may even join you.

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