It's very easy to adopt bad habits after having to sit for hours behind a desk and then commuting home. If you've been spending a little too much sitting and eating prepackaged foods or takeout loaded with sodium, then it's time to break the cycle.
This is not necessarily about the need to lose weight. If you lose weight as a result of changing your lifestyle, that's great. But the reason that should be driving you to move more and eat healthier should be your heart — especially if you're a woman. Why? The statistics are rather grim. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more women die from heart disease than from any other cause — that's one in four American women. Don't let the statistic scare you, however. Do let the statistic prompt you to get up and get moving.
The risk of heart disease increases for everyone as they age, explains Shari Targum, MD, MPH, a cardiologist with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). "For women, the risk goes up after menopause, but younger women can also develop heart disease," Targum adds.
But you can fight back and take control of your health. Here are some tips from the FDA on how you can reduce your risk for heart disease:
Diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol can increase your risk for heart disease. Talk to your healthcare provider to confirm the best treatment plan.
And call 9-1-1 if needed. Symptoms in women can be different from those in men. They tend to include shortness of breath, nausea and an ache or feeling of tightness in the chest, arm, neck, jaw or abdomen. "If you have these symptoms and suspect you're having a heart attack, call 9-1-1," says Targum.
You don't need to complete all activity at one set time — and it's okay if you're not a fan of the gym. "Walking may be one easy way to start," says Targum. "Talk to your healthcare provider about how much activity is right for you."
"For example, you can eat fruits or vegetables with each meal — and limit saturated fat and sugary beverages like soda," says Targum, who also emphasizes a focus on whole grains. And if you choose to eat meats, choose the leanest cuts available and prepare them in healthy ways. The Nutrition Facts label can tell you key information about the packaged foods you eat, and it includes details about serving sizes and nutrients like fat and sugar. You can check with your healthcare provider to confirm the food choices best for you.
Talk with a healthcare professional before you use aspirin as a way to prevent heart attacks.
Check out the FDA's website to learn more about medicines to help you quit.
Talk to a health professional about whether you can participate in a clinical trial for a heart medication or procedure. A clinical trial is a research study that involves human volunteers. You can visit the FDA's Women in Clinical Trials page to learn more.
"Menopause does not cause heart disease," explains Targum. "But the decline in estrogen after menopause may be one of several factors in the increase in heart disease risk."
Other risks, such as weight gain, may also increase around the time of menopause.
Hormone therapy can be used to treat some of the problems women have during menopause. "However, the American Heart Association recommends against using post-menopausal estrogen hormone replacement therapy to prevent heart disease," adds Targum.
Work with your healthcare team to make a plan for your heart health. No matter what routine you choose, make sure to keep a list of your medicines and supplements and bring it with you to all of your appointments.
And ask your healthcare providers any questions you have. Don't rely on Google and anecdotal evidence. Remember that the human body is a complex thing. What someone swears works for them may not necessarily work for you. Arm yourself with the facts, but be sure to get them from the professionals. Ask your doctor and if something doesn't seem right to you, get a second or third opinion from other doctors.