Even though heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in America, the condition is often missed or misdiagnosed for women. Living a healthy lifestyle is one of the best things you can do to lower the risk of developing heart disease.
Eating a heart-healthy diet and having a regular exercise program are two things you can do to boost your physical health and lower the risk for many chronic health issues, including heart disease. Using a fitness tracker is a great way to stay motivated to exercise. Some insurance companies also provide incentives when it comes to fitness trackers and heart disease.
We’ll explain the basics of heart disease in women, as well as what women can do to avoid the health and financial repercussions of heart conditions. We’ll also detail what prevention methods can result in discounts on your health and life insurance.
What is heart disease?
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Americans across all age groups, sex, races, and ethnicities. It causes more deaths in the US than cancer. A healthy heart is important for blood flow which transports oxygen and many other nutrients throughout the entire body.
This condition is also known as cardiovascular disease or coronary heart disease. It primarily affects the heart and blood vessels. Many different conditions can be classified as heart disease, such as a heart attack,
Stroke is another leading cause of death and is related to cardiovascular disease, except that it affects the blood vessels leading to the brain.
How does heart disease affect women?
There are some similarities and differences in how heart disease affects men vs. women. Controllable and uncontrollable factors can put us at higher risk for developing heart disease. It’s essential to understand the symptoms of a heart attack so you can get immediate care.
The risk factors for heart disease are similar for men and women. Some risk factors are uncontrollable, like age, family history, and Type 1 diabetes.
Generally, the risk of heart disease increases as you age. Women are at a lower risk for developing heart disease than men until middle age. Estrogen is heart-protective, so when levels of this hormone fluctuate during menopause, the risk of heart disease for women is increased.
Family history and genetics also play a role in increasing the risk for heart disease. If you have a mother, father, or sibling who has heart disease, you are also at an increased risk.
Other factors like smoking, overweight, obesity, overconsumption of alcohol, an unhealthy diet, and a sedentary lifestyle are controllable risk factors that are linked to heart disease.
Some other related conditions also increase the risk for heart disease like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high LDL cholesterol levels. People that have diabetes are at increased risk for heart disease. There are no signs or symptoms of high blood pressure, which is why this condition is known as the “silent killer.”
High LDL cholesterol (also known as the “bad” cholesterol) is also a risk factor for heart disease. HDL cholesterol is the “good” cholesterol and a high HDL level is protective for your heart.
The signs of a heart attack in women vary from the signs in men. Women don’t always experience chest pain if they are experiencing a heart attack, which is why this condition can be misdiagnosed or missed. You may experience arrhythmias or palpitations, which can be linked to heart disease.
Some women may have no signs or symptoms, but others may experience jaw, neck, or abdominal pain. Some women may also experience nausea, vomiting, dizziness, or fatigue. Other symptoms can be indigestion, shortness of breath, or sweating.
Preventing Heart Disease
While some risk factors for heart disease we can’t control, there are lifestyle habits that we do control which can prevent and lower the risk for heart disease.
A Heart-Healthy Diet
Eating a healthy diet is one of the best things you can do to lower the risk of heart disease. A heart-healthy diet includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein.
Some nutrients have a connection to heart health. Fiber, potassium, unsaturated fats, and antioxidants can boost heart health and should be eaten more often as part of a healthy diet.
Fiber is abundant in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Good sources of potassium are milk, yogurt, fruits, and vegetables.
Unsaturated fats are found in fish, nuts, seeds, nut butter, and avocados. Colorful fruits and vegetables, whole grains, coffee, tea, red wine, and dark chocolate are full of antioxidants.
Foods with trans fat and saturated fat like fried foods, processed foods, and packaged foods should be minimized to protect heart health.
Moderate alcohol consumption can be heart-healthy, but overconsumption of alcohol is a risk factor for heart disease. Moderate alcohol consumption is no more than one drink daily for women and no more than two drinks daily for men.
One of the other important lifestyle factors that help lower the risk of heart disease is exercise and physical activity. A regular exercise routine can help boost heart health, manage weight, lower LDL cholesterol levels, and lower blood pressure.
Cardiorespiratory endurance exercises like walking, jogging, swimming, dancing, and cycling help improve your heart, lungs, and blood vessels. We also call these aerobic activities because you use oxygen while performing them. You should strive to do moderate-intensity aerobic exercises for at least 150 minutes weekly.
Resistance training and weight training are also great exercises to do to boost your overall health and also work your muscles and bones. Just remember, any amount of activity is better than none. More physical activity is better than some, so stay active and do the exercises you enjoy.
Stress in life is inevitable, but the ways we handle stress make a big difference in our overall health. It’s important to have stress management techniques that work for you to help you best cope with stressors. Some common stress management techniques include going for a walk, taking a bath, getting a massage, journaling, meditation, talking with a friend, or participating in spiritual activities.
Follow Advice from Health Care Providers
Your healthcare providers may make recommendations for medical tests, procedures, or medications. It’s important to follow these recommendations to stay healthy and maintain your heart health.
You should have your blood pressure checked regularly during each healthcare provider’s office visit. Bloodwork, such as blood cholesterol and fasting glucose, can be done yearly, or according to your doctor’s recommendation.
If you already have heart disease or are experiencing some related conditions, it may be recommended for you to take a statin medication to lower your blood pressure. Some doctors may also recommend daily aspirin to help improve blood flow in connection to heart disease. They may also recommend cardiac rehabilitation, which is a physical activity program for those who are at risk or have had heart problems.
Heart Disease and Health Insurance
Some health insurance companies incentivize or discount fitness trackers as a way to boost heart health in their policyholders. Fitness trackers are a great way to stay motivated and get the necessary daily physical activity for overall health and wellness.
Living a healthy lifestyle is one of the best things you can do to lower your risk for heart disease, as well as lower the risk for other health conditions. Eating a healthy diet, staying active, managing stress, and following your healthcare provider’s recommendations can boost your heart and overall health in many ways.
Melissa Morris writes and researches for the insurance comparison site, Clearsurance.com. She has master’s and bachelor’s degrees in exercise science and health promotion and is a university professor of health sciences and human performance.