Women and Heart Disease by Cindy Anderson, Exercise Physiologist

 Women are at risk for heart disease and heart attacks, just like men. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death among women over 65. Women are four to six times more likely to die of heart disease than of breast cancer. By the age of 65, a woman's risk is almost the same as a man's. The time is now for women to pay close attention to their heart health, and move toward a healthier lifestyle that includes exercise and proper nutrition.

Women may encounter all, none, many, or a few of the characteristic heart attack symptoms. For women, the most common heart attack symptom is some type of pain, pressure, or discomfort in the chest. Women are more likely than men to experience some of the following symptoms: shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain. Women often avoid seeking medical care when these particular symptoms arise, because we do not usually associate these symptoms with heart disease.

For both men and women, the biggest factors that contribute to heart disease are smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, family history, and age. Although there isn't much you can do about your family history or your age, you can make lifestyle changes to avoid many of the other risk factors. However, it's essential to at least be aware of your family health history. Having a father or brother with heart disease before age 55, or a mother or sister with heart disease before age 65, are factors that contribute to heart disease. With this information, you can plan a course of action with your family doctor to evaluate your risk and take the appropriate steps to prevent potential problems.

Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease in women. More than half of the heart attacks in women under 50 are related to smoking. If you stop smoking, you can lower your risk of a heart attack by one third, within two years. Another risk factor is high blood pressure. Treating high blood pressure can lower your risk of heart attack and stroke. A healthy diet, losing weight and exercising regularly are all ways to help control high blood pressure.

Controlling your cholesterol level can also lower your risk of heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, under 200 mg/dL is a desirable total cholesterol level. In terms of HDL cholesterol intake, this is considered the "good cholesterol", the higher the better. A level of 60 mg/dL or higher, gives some protection against heart disease. In terms of LDL cholesterol, less than 100 mg/dL is optimal.

In terms of food consumption, keep fat calories to 30% or less than the total amount of calories you eat during the day and avoid saturated fat. According to the American Diet Association, the best heart healthy foods are salmon, flaxseed, oatmeal, black or red kidney beans, almonds and walnuts. Maintaining a healthy weight can also reduce your risk of heart disease. Extra weight puts strain on your heart and arteries.

Be aware of chest pain. Be sure to contact your doctor immediately if you suffer from pain in your chest, shoulder, neck or jaw. Also, notify your doctor if you experience shortness of breath or nausea that comes on quickly. If you are having a heart attack, the faster you can get to the hospital, the less damage that will happen to your heart. Every second counts.

Remember, your heart is a muscle. It needs regular exercise to stay in shape. Aerobic exercise, means "with oxygen." Exercises that increase your heart rate and oxygen consumption such as, brisk walking, swimming, jogging or cycling, will strengthen your heart. Working with an exercise physiologist or certified personal trainer will help determine what exercises are best for you. He or she will discuss your goals, assess your fitness level and design an exercise program best suited for your health care needs. Before starting any exercise program, always receive approval from your physician.

Here at South Bay Sports & Physical Therapy, we offer a medical exercise and therapy program called Club M.E.T. Club M.E.T. will help reduce your risk of heart disease and heart attacks by combining physical therapy, exercise, and nutrition. During this three-month program, you will meet with highly qualified staff including physical therapists, and an exercise physiologist to design a comprehensive plan of care.

The reason patients with heart disease may benefit from physical therapy is because staying active is the key to a healthy heart. Physical therapy is a good way to maintain or improve mobility. With our hands-on exam, diagnosis, and treatment, we can treat many kinds of pain and inflammation in patients of all ages, give fitness advice and assistance, and promote overall wellness. Many people need guidance to start and maintain their exercise program. Proper nutrition, fitness, and guidance are more effective than most drugs at treating heart disease.

Club M.E.T. will restore you to optimal health and maximize your quality of life. For more information on joining Club M.E.T., contact South Bay Sports & Physical Therapy at: (631) 842-4606.