7 Keys to a Woman’s Healthy Heart

woman peeling carrots in the kitchen

Here's what you can do to help lower your risk of heart disease.

Heart disease, the leading cause of death for women in the United States, can be insidious, creeping up slowly and seemingly without warning. Often it can be “silent,” too, with no obvious symptoms at all—until a crisis or emergency, like a heart attack, strikes.

Elie Chakhtoura, MD
Elie Chakhtoura, MD

“Fortunately, there are steps women can take to help prevent heart disease,” says interventional cardiologist Elie Chakhtoura, MD, Director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Clara Maass Medical Center (CMMC) and a member of RWJBarnabas Health Medical Group. “Awareness is important, but it’s not enough to just be aware of risk factors. Women need to be proactive when it comes to their self-care and overall healthcare.” Here are seven things women can do to help prevent or reduce their risk of heart disease:

1. Monitor Your Blood Pressure

High blood pressure can lead to heart disease, so get your blood pressure checked regularly,” says Dr. Chakhtoura. “If it’s high, talk to your doctor about how to lower it. There are many ways to get those numbers down.”

2. Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet

Reduce sugar and salt and eat a diet that contains whole grains, lean proteins, fruits and vegetables, and that’s low in saturated fats and cholesterol. A Mediterranean diet is a healthy option to consider.

3. Avoid Overeating

In addition to causing weight gain, eating heavy meals and large portions causes your body to work overtime and increases your heart rate. Fatty meals are particularly taxing.

4. Exercise

Take a walk, ride a bike, swim, dance—just get moving, and aim for at least a half-hour of moderate exercise per day, incorporating strength training twice a week. “Be sure to check with your healthcare provider about a regimen that’s appropriate for your specific health needs,” advises Dr. Chakhtoura.

5. Quit Smoking

Just do it. After one year, your risk of developing heart disease will be cut by 50 percent.

6. Manage Stress

Stress can have a profound effect on your heart health by inducing the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which in turn cause an increase in blood pressure and injury to the inner layer of your heart vessels (endothelium) leading to a heart attack. Yoga and meditation are just two things that can help with managing stress. Speak to your provider about other options.

7. Sleep Well

Sleep is important but it’s not just about getting enough sleep, which for most adults is about seven to nine hours per night. Getting enough restful, restorative sleep is what matters. Go to bed at about the same time every night; sleep in a cool, dark room; and turn off electronic devices like cell phones and tablets.

Warning Signs of Heart Attack in Women

Though there is some overlap in the symptoms of heart attack in men and women, women have some different symptoms, many of which can be subtle or may be attributed to just aches and pains, the flu or heartburn. But if you think you’re having a heart attack, call 911:

  • Jaw, neck or upper back pain
  • Chest pain
  • Chest tightness
  • Pain in the shoulder or arm
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Cold sweats
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the lower chest or upper abdomen
  • Indigestion

Whoever your heart beats for, our hearts beat for you. To connect to a top cardiovascular expert at Clara Maass Medical Center, call 888-724-7123.