Women: Be selfish! Your heart comes first

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Taking the time to improve your well-being isn’t selfish. In fact, everyone you love will reap the benefits of a healthier you! The best place to start is your heart, says Laxmi Mehta, MD, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. 

“Women are natural-born nurturers who make their family and friends a priority over themselves,” Dr. Mehta says. 

“You can only take care of others if you’re in good shape and in good health.”

Heart disease is the world’s No. 1 killer of women, causing 1 in 3 deaths each year, according to the American Heart Association. That's about one woman every minute! Heart disease is preventable, but often under-diagnosed and under-treated in women. 

Must Read: Heart Attack Signs in Women (Different Than in Men)

Dr. Mehta added, as a woman herself, she has a personal crusade for helping decrease death rates caused by cardiovascular disease among women.

Mehta’s five heart-healthy tips may save your life:

Heart Tip #1: Kick the butt

Smoking puts you at higher risk for heart disease and stroke. It also robs you of some of your good cholesterol, temporarily raises your blood pressure and makes it more difficult to exercise. If quitting cold turkey feels impossible, Dr. Mehta says even a gradual reduction in the number of daily cigarettes can make a difference. 

Heart Tip #2: Embrace your role as family food leader

Eating healthy rubs off on others around you, especially if they depend largely upon you for food.

“If you’re the primary food provider in the house, you affect generations,” says Dr. Mehta, who points out that plaque buildup in arteries can begin developing in childhood. 

She suggests limiting fast food, stocking healthy snacks at home and eating junk foods in moderation. 

Heart Tip #3: Be ruthless about squeezing in exercise

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise per week. That can be hard if you’re working and have children. 

If you exercise 30 minutes a day, five times a week, you’ll hit that target. Sometimes 30 minutes feels impossible to find. “But if you can at least exercise in 10-minute increments throughout the day, you’d get there,” says Dr. Mehta.

Get creative with exercise: 

  • Walk the sideline at your kid’s sporting event
  • Park farther from work or take the stairs
  • Lift weights while watching TV 

Heart Tip #4: Find your happy place

Stress is a natural part of life, but how we handle it can affect our hearts.

Rather than smoke or eat as stress-relief, Dr. Mehta recommends a 10-minute walk, getting a massage, talking to a friend or stepping away from the computer. 

It's important to take time to decompress your mind or release the tension with a massage.  

Heart Tip #5: Know your heart health numbers

Your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and body mass index are key indicators of your risk for serious illness. If you know these important numbers, you can make changes to improve your health and reduce your risk of developing heart disease.

Start at home by weighing yourself regularly, using a fitness tracker and downloading an app to track your food/calorie intake (Try MyFitness Pal, Lose It! or FatSecret). 

“Women should see their doctors and know their numbers – even if they don’t like their numbers,” says Dr. Mehta. “Know your baseline and move in a positive direction.”

Learn more about how Ohio State is meeting women’s unique needs for good heart health.

Download our free heart health guide

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