Think you know about your risk factors for heart disease? Take
this brief quiz:
1. Which medical condition is not associated with a higher risk
of developing heart disease?
a. High blood pressure
d. High cholesterol
2. What's the minimum recommended amount of moderate-level
activity to help keep your heart healthy?
a. 60 minutes/week
b. 90 minutes/week
c. 150 minutes/week
d. 300 minutes/week
3. What is the safe level of secondhand smoke?
a. Exposure of less than five
b. Exposure of less than two
c. Exposure of less than one
d. None; any exposure to secondhand
smoke can increase your risk of heart disease
4. What dietary recommendation can help you reduce your risk of
developing heart disease?
a. Increasing consumption of fruits
b. Consuming more whole grains
c. Reducing saturated fat
d. All of the above
How'd you do?
The answers: #1 is c; #2 is c; #3 is d; #4 is d. For more about
heart disease and how you can live healthier now and in the future,
check out cdc.gov/heartdisease/index.htm.
Chicago mom Susan Bennett was 40 when she gave birth to
her second child, a son. One night when Ben was three weeks old,
she nursed him and put him back into his bassinet.
When Ben started crying a few minutes later, she tried to
get up, but fell back unconscious. Her husband, Chris Paluch,
Susan had had a heart attack. Paramedics restarted her
heart with an external defibrillator and she had an angiogram that
night. She spent three weeks in the hospital.
"I have no memory of that day or evening and a lot of that
time (in the hospital) is a blur," she says. "But my husband said
that when he came home that night, I was complaining of some pains
in my left side. I'd talked to a nurse about it that day and she
assumed that something was wrong with my breast because I was
nursing. She told me take an aspirin and call if it was still
bothering me. That aspirin possibly saved my life."
Bennett admits that she was under a lot of stress in the
months before her heart attack.
"I had two kids in 18 months, my father was diagnosed with
a fast-progressing terminal illness, my job went away and I had to
look for a new job, and I bought a new house" Bennett says. Her
doctors think the stress of being pregnant on top of everything
else may have led to her heart attack.
But all in all, Bennett was lucky. Today, at 51, she is
healthy and committed to sharing her story with other
Ask a woman what she's worried about dying from and she's
likely to say breast cancer. But it's heart disease that is the
biggest killer of women. Your lifestyle in your 30s, 40s and 50s
(and beyond) can help reduce your risk.
Risk factors include smoking, hypertension, diabetes,
abnormal cholesterol, family history, sedentary lifestyle and poor
diet, says Joan Briller, M.D., an associate professor of medicine
(cardiology) and the director of the Heart Disease in Women Program
at University of Illinois at Chicago.
No, you can't control your family history. But there are
plenty of things you can do to reduce your risk and help you live
healthier-as well as modeling positive habits for your children.
"Lifestyle changes (like exercise and eating better) can help you
avoid developing plaque in your arteries that cause heart attacks
and strokes," says Annabelle Volgman, M.D., director of the Heart
Center for Women at Rush University Medical Center in
Those lifestyle changes include:
Get moving. The general
recommendation for heart health is 150 minutes of moderate exercise
(or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise) each week. That may sound like
a lot, but it works out to five 30-minute walks or a couple of
high-intensity workouts (think spinning) each week. Remember even
mini-workouts, like a 10-minute walk after lunch or some
enthusiastic vacuuming, "counts."
Lower the pressure.
"Probably the big risk factor for heart disease for women is
hypertension, and lifestyle-wise there are a lot of things you can
do for high blood pressure," says Briller. If it's on the high
side, ask your doctor if you need to lose weight. Lowering your
salt intake and becoming more active help, too. If lifestyle
changes don't work, ask your doctor about medication.
Manage your stress. Research
has linked chronic stress and heart disease, and if you're like
most moms, you probably feel stressed or overwhelmed sometimes.
Even if you can't ditch the stressors (like your kids!), you can
figure out how to manage yours better.
"The key change for me was to really recognize the stress
of my crazy lifestyle and the toll that it takes and try to make
adjustments for it," says Bennett.
Kelly James-Enger is a mom of two and freelance writer specializing in fitness, health and parenting.
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