American Heart Month is not only the time to think about Valentine’s Day and heart-shaped chocolates but, more importantly, the perfect opportunity to reflect on the state of our actual hearts. In fact, the American Heart Association believes that protecting your heart should be every woman’s top priority, as heart disease is the #1 cause of death for women in the United States. To put that into perspective, it kills more of us each year than all forms of cancer combined. We’ll let that sink in a minute….
According to Dr. Sharon Mass, OBGYN and medical correspondent exclusive to us here at bare necessities, high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and smoking are the biggest risk factors for heart disease, and about half of Americans have one or more of those risk factors. Obesity, diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption and lack of exercise also come into play.
The good news? You can follow these healthy living tips to keep your heart pumping:
- Well visits
To evaluate your risk, it’s vital to schedule these annual appointments with your primary care doctor. The Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular (ASCVD) calculator can estimate your 10-year and lifetime risks of death from heart attack, stroke and other heart diseases; you and your doctor can use this simple tool by inputting a few lab results and facts about your health.
The American Heart Association recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly (or 30 minutes a day for at least five days a week).
Adults need 7-9 hours of shut-eye a night, per the National Sleep Foundation. Can’t sleep? Check out our tips on how to catch more Zzzs and how to sleep better.
- Heart-healthy diet
A heart-healthy diet comprised of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fat-free or low-fat dairy products and lean proteins goes a long way toward safeguarding your heart.
Of course, the thought of so much pious living can induce stress—yet another risk factor for heart disease. Happily, there are also some surprisingly indulgent ways to keep your heart healthy and happy:
- Dark chocolate!
Small amounts once or twice per week may play a role in lowering blood pressure and improving cholesterol, thanks to the flavanols and anti-oxidants it contains.
A cup of joe a day has been shown to lower the risk of death caused by heart disease and stroke.
- Red wine!
When imbibed in moderation (that’d be 4 oz. of wine per day for a woman), vino rosso contains some anti-oxidants that may help the heart by increasing HDL or “good” cholesterol and protecting arteries.
Showing affection via expressions of love, touching and sex releases oxytocin, a hormone that can alleviate stress and lower the risk of heart disease.
This V-Day, it seems you get to have your cake (or, in this case, chocolate-covered strawberries) and eat it, too.
Sharon Mass, MD, is an Obstetrician-Gynecologist in private practice in Morristown, NJ. She has held leadership positions in the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists for the past 20 years. Dr. Mass is often asked to speak about issues in women’s health, breastfeeding and breast imaging. She was named as a “Top Doctor” in the 2009, 2012, 2013 and 2014 issues of New Jersey Monthly magazine.