Women’s Heart Health Part 2: Keys to Preventing Heart Disease and Managing Heart Health for Women | SBM – Society of Behavioral Medicine

Michelle Pebole, MA; Doctoral Student, Department of Kinesiology and Community Health, University of Illinois at Urbana ChampaignJoni Williams, MD, MPH; Assistant Professor of Medicine, Medical College of WisconsinRose E. Constantino, PhD, JD, RN, FACFE, FAAN; Associate Professor of Health and Community Systems, University of Pittsburg School of NursingAlyssa Vela, PhD; Assistant Professor Surgery and Psychiatry, Northwestern Medicine

Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Because of the gender-specific risks and symptoms, attention to preventing heart disease and managing womens heart hearth across the lifespan is important. Symptoms of heart disease or a heart attack may be more subtle for women than for men. For example, many women experience chest pain at the onset of a heart attack, but other typical heart attack symptoms are far less common among women. Instead, women commonly experience fatigue, difficulty sleeping, shortness of breath, lightheadedness or dizziness, nausea or vomiting, weakness, or a cold sweat. Understanding these gender differences in heart disease symptoms can help increase recognition, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in women. To learn more about heart health throughout the womans lifespan, read Womens Heart Health: Part 1.

Women also have an incredible amount of power over their own health and can prevent heart disease and manage heart health by practicing healthy behaviors. We have put together recommendations and tips for preventing heart disease in women:

1. Diet: Following a healthy diet is one of the best ways to prevent heart disease. While nutrition guidelines often vary, some foods are well understood to help you to live a healthy life and prevent chronic diseases. Here are five key recommendations for a heart-healthy diet:

2. Exercise: Being physically active is important for maintaining good heart health and treating heart disease. Exercise can strengthen heart muscles, help maintain a healthy weight, prevent other health conditions that strain your heart (i.e. high blood pressure). Here are five effective methods to help you become more active:

3. Sleep: Good quality sleep plays a vital role in how the body functions. Sleep is important for fighting off illness, improving your mood, helping you think, and keeping you active. Nearly 30% of adults get less than the recommended 7 hours of nightly sleep. Here are a few key steps to improve and maintain good sleep:

4. Stress Management: Balancing competing obligations in life can be difficult and the associated stress can negatively impact your health. For many people, stress may result in poor health behaviors, such as over-eating or smoking cigarettes, which further increases risk for heart disease. Additionally, for many people, making time for stress management can create more stress.Choose something that feels right for you and doesnt add to an already busy or stressful schedule. This might mean changing your mindset about an activity. Consider the following options to manage stress and improve your overall health:/p>

By focusing on factors within their control, women can be empowered to manage their health and live their best lives. Setting small, realistic goals and taking active steps can help to support the healthy behaviors that are key for heart health and overall well-being.

Many women have difficulty managing some or all of the key factors on their own. If this is the case for you, consider talking to a professional. Different specialists are available to help with diet, exercise, and sleep. A psychologist or counselor can help you overcome barriers to making healthy changes or learn strategies to better manage stress.

Also read Womens Heart Health: Part 3, which will help guide womens conversations about heart heath with their doctor and includes a list of questions to ask.

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Kochanek, K.D., Xu, J.Q., Murphy, S.L., Minino, A.M., & Kung, H.C. (2011). Deaths: Final data for 2019. National Vital Statistics Report,60(3), 1-116.

Mosca, L., Hammond, G., Mochari-Greenberger, H., Towfighi, A., & Albert, M.A. (2013). Fifteen-year trends in awareness of heart disease in women: Results of a 2012 American Heart Association National Survey. Circulation, 127, 1254-1263.

National Institutes of Health National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (2020). Coronary heart disease. Retrieved from: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/coronary-heart-disease

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