February is the month when the American Heart Association asks us to Go Red For Women and learn the facts about heart disease. Women who are physically active–runners, walkers, cyclists, swimmers, cross-fitters, strength trainers–tend to think of ourselves as healthy, but there are five things we all should do to take better care of our hearts.
- Know your risk. A family history of heart disease or stroke, certain medical conditions (including diabetes), high blood pressure, and/or high cholesterol levels can put you at increased risk. The American Heart Association encourages you to know your risk and notes that lifestyle changes can reduce your risk by as much as 80%.
- Know the symptoms of heart attack and stroke in women. If you haven’t brushed up on the symptoms of heart attack and stroke since that high school health class, or the CPR class you took to be a lifeguard over summer break, you may not know that the symptoms of heart attack and stroke in women are different than for men. Shortness of breath, jaw pain, back pain, and nausea are some of the unusual heart attack symptoms the American Heart Association wants women to pay attention to. I wrote about the “new” stroke symptoms in women here.
- Follow a healthy diet. If you are active, you may be able to eat burgers and fries, nachos, and ice cream and still fit into your favorite jeans, but just because you are burning off the calories doesn’t mean you are eating healthfully. The new USDA dietary guidelines aren’t very helpful (as I wrote here) but the American Heart Association gives us this more concrete dietary advice:
Eat an overall healthy dietary pattern that emphasizes a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, skinless poultry and fish, nuts and legumes, and non-tropical vegetable oils. Limit saturated fat, trans fat, sodium, red meat, sweets and sugar-sweetened beverages. If you choose to eat red meat, compare labels and select the leanest cuts available.
- Move more. Yes, I’m talking to you, even if you ran your tenth half marathon this weekend, are training for your fifth triathlon, or won your Crossfit competition. If your activity is concentrated in one hour a day and you spend the rest of the day sitting at your desk like I do, you may not be as healthy as you think. Since I can spend 10 hours a day at work, I’ve finally switched to a standing desk to cut down on my sitting. This article in the Washington Post was one of the things that finally made me take this health risk seriously.
- Manage stress. Running is the main way I manage stress, but when work or family situations get stressful I usually have less time to run, not more. If physical activity is your main stress release, it’s still a good idea to manage stress in other ways–talk to a friend, spend time with people (or animals!) who make you laugh, or treat yourself to a massage. If you need more ideas, check out Mar’s 14 days of self-care program.
This week’s Wednesday Word is heart. I hope this information inspires you to take better care of yours! This week’s Friday Five theme is fitness. Follow these tips to make sure your heart is as fit as it can be.
Spread the word and wear red on Friday, February 5 for #GoRedWearRed day, then come back for the Ultimate Coffee Date Link Up on Saturday!
How do you manage stress?