As a cardiothoracic surgeon, few causes are more important to me than promoting heart health. In the U.S., heart disease is the leading cause of death by far, killing more people every year than all types of cancer combined. In fact, one out of every 3 to 4 deaths is due to heart disease.
Few women are immune to this risk. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 90% of women have at least one risk factor for developing heart disease and approximately one woman dies from heart disease every minute. But despite all this, surveys show that only 1 in 5 American women thinks that heart disease is the greatest threat to her health. And only 27% of people know all major symptoms of a heart attack or when to call 911. This may be a large reason why almost half of people who perish from sudden cardiac death die outside of a hospital.
Heart disease is a huge problem for both men and women, but attention has only been recently turned toward increasing women’s awareness of this often silent killer. According to the AHA, women still make up only 24% of participants in heart-related studies. While many women think of heart disease as a man’s disease, about as many women are dying from heart disease as men. So today on the show and on our website, I’m sharing the top 10 things about heart disease that every woman must know, including our best tips for what women can do to ward off this frightening disease.
You may already be familiar with the cornerstones of heart-healthy living – I promote them in one way or another nearly every day on my show. Eating healthy, not smoking, exercising and getting enough sleep may sound like daunting tasks at first, but you’d be surprised at how even minor changes can boost your heart’s health.
Let’s start with weight loss. I know how intimidating it can be to try dropping all the way to your ideal weight. But did you know you only need to lose 5 to 10% of your body weight to start helping your heart? And beyond your weight, pay attention to your waistline – it may be an even better indicator of your heart health. Ideally, women should try to keep their waistlines (measured at belly-button level) at or under 35 inches and men should try not to exceed 40 inches. And when it comes to diet, we have lots of great food suggestions for how to keep your heart and your stomach happy at the same time.
Next, you’ve heard me say it before, and I’ll say it again: get some sleep. Studies show that people who sleep less than six hours a night may double their risk of developing heart disease. But oversleeping might not be so good for your heart, either. Sleeping 7 to 8 hours a night looks to be the sweet spot for heart health. Learn more about your personal sleep type and dietary tips that might help you sleep better.
And if you’re looking for some truly feel-good ways to boost heart health, I can’t recommend a better way than spicing your life with a little more laughter and sex. Laughter helps reduce levels of stress hormones such as cortisol that can be damaging to heart health. And in addition to releasing lots of feel-good and stress-busting hormones, sex also lowers blood pressure and has been shown to decrease heart disease risk.
Learn more must-know facts and easy tips on how to lower your heart disease risk.