It’s February, which means that hearts are everywhere! As sweet as candy hearts can be, we’re not talking about Valentine’s Day. Instead, we’re thinking about American Heart Health Month and the heart health of women over 65.

According to the American Heart Association, heart disease and other cardiovascular diseases are responsible for 1 in 3 deaths among women every year. That number represents more women’s deaths from cardiovascular diseases than from all cancers combined. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. The American Heart Association also says that 80 percent of cardiac and stroke events can be prevented through education and lifestyle changes.

With that in mind, let’s talk about what you or your loved ones can do to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, stroke, and heart attacks. Here are 5 steps you can take to start protecting your heart today.

1. Avoid Smoking

Numerous studies show the damage smoking can have on your health, including your heart health. Even smoking only one or two cigarettes a day can greatly increase your risk of a heart attack or other cardiovascular condition. This also applies to nonsmokers who are frequently exposed to secondhand smoke.

2. Incorporate Exercise into Your Routine

Your heart is a muscle, and like any other muscle, it needs to work out to stay strong and healthy. Raising your heart rate with moderate exercise can improve your heart’s ability to pump blood throughout your body and can even increase your energy levels. Aim to spend at least 30 minutes engaged in a light to moderate cardio workout on most days. That doesn’t mean you need to hit the gym every day, either—walking your dog, dancing, and even cleaning the house can help meet these goals.

3. Focus on a Healthy Body Weight

Research shows that being overweight can contribute significantly to the onset of heart disease. Additional body weight can make it more difficult for your heart to circulate blood and vital nutrients through your body. Talk with your doctor about what a healthy weight for your body is and ways you can maintain that weight.

4. Practice a Heart-Healthy Diet

One of your doctor’s suggestions to maintain your healthy weight may include dietary suggestions. Getting plenty of plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains, is a great way to meet your nutritional needs and support your heart health. Your doctor may also recommend limiting certain foods, such as refined sugar, sodium, cholesterol, saturated fat, and trans or partially hydrogenated fat. That doesn’t mean you need to cut out all fats, though. Heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (found in fish like tuna and salmon, flaxseed, almonds, and walnuts) and monounsaturated fats (found in olive and peanut oils) are a part of a well-balanced diet.

5. Treat Your Medical Conditions

As we age, it’s not uncommon to experience new medical conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Additional medical conditions can increase the likelihood of heart disease, stroke, and other cardiovascular health concerns. Work with your doctor to treat your existing medical conditions and reduce your risk of heart problems in the future. Investing in your heart health is an important part of healthy aging. Take some time to be sweet and share our printable Women’s Heart Health Tip Sheet with your loved ones this month! For more information about women’s heart health, visit the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women site

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