February is Heart Month! Dwithiya Thomas, MD from St. Luke's Cardiology Associates encourages women to learn how a few simple numbers can lead to a healthier heart. “Knowing some key numbers NOW can help reduce your risk of heart disease LATER,” says Dr. Thomas. “It’s so important for women to know that your risk for heart disease increases with age, so the earlier you start paying attention to heart health, the better.”
First, here are some eye-opening numbers about heart disease:
Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women, accounting for 1 in 3 deaths each year. 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for heart disease. 1 woman dies of heart disease or stroke approximately every 80 seconds.
Knowing these important numbers can help you reduce your risk:
Blood Pressure - Blood pressure is an indicator of how hard your heart is working. A normal blood pressure for women is a reading of less than 120/80 mm Hg.
Cholesterol - Cholesterol is measured through a blood sample. When there is too much cholesterol in your blood, it can build up and block normal blood flow to the heart muscle. The type of cholesterol to watch is called LDL, otherwise known as “bad cholesterol.” LDL cholesterol levels should be close to a value of 100 mg/dL or less. An easy way to differentiate between the bad and good cholesterol? LDL is for bad or “lousy” cholesterol and HDL is for good or “happy” cholesterol.
Blood Sugar - Blood sugar, or glucose, levels are also taken from a blood sample. High blood sugar indicates an elevated risk for diabetes. Blood sugar levels should be at or below 100 mg/dL after not eating for at least eight hours.
Body Mass Index (BMI) - BMI is an estimate of your body fat. You don’t need a healthcare provider to help you calculate BMI. There are many BMI calculators online that will help you get these numbers, based on your height and weight. A normal BMI range for women is between 18.5-24.9, but this may vary based on the individual’s muscle mass.
Waist Circumference - Researchers have recently found that if most of your body fat is situated around your waist, you could be at an increased risk for heart disease. For women, if your waist measures more than 35 inches, you’re at an increased risk.
The good news? Dr. Thomas reminds us that 80 percent of heart disease can be prevented by lifestyle changes and education. So here are three simple things you can do right now to make a commitment to your health, improve your numbers and reduce your risk:
Stop smoking - NOW! - It’s the best thing you can do to prevent heart disease. Smoking damages your circulatory system, inhibits your lung capacity and lowers your good (HDL) cholesterol.
Fuel with Good Foods - Your body craves healthy food, WHOLE foods with a small ingredient list. Foods that come largely from the earth, not processed in a factory. Added sugar, salt and cholesterol are hidden in a lot of packaged and prepared foods, so read labels.
MOVE - Get up and move - every day. Staring at screens and devices make it far too easy and comfortable to be sedentary. You don’t need to carve out a big chunk of time to exercise - start with short increments and maybe build up to 30 minutes. You’ll feel so good, you’ll likely want to do more! Thirty minutes of moderate exercise every day lowers your risk for heart disease and increases your overall quality of life.
“Women tend to be fairly vigilant about keeping their yearly gynecologist appointments where we do routine screenings for certain types of gynecological, breast or colon cancers, but it’s also a good time to take stock of your overall health, which includes heart health,” suggests St. Luke’s OB/GYN Richard Baker, MD. “When you go in for your yearly visit, ask your doctor about your heart numbers and he or she can help you figure out what they mean and direct you to the proper resources to improve your heart health.”
Find out more about how your numbers can improve your health by making an appointment with a St. Luke’s primary care provider or OB/GYN.