For Your Health
Listen to Your Heart
Fighting the #1 killer of women
Although more and more women know about the general dangers of heart disease, too many of us still don’t acknowledge our own vulnerability, according to the federal government.
“One third of women underestimate their own risk for heart disease,” says Dr. Elizabeth Nabel, Director of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, part of the federal National Institutes of Health. “Yet an astonishing 80 percent of midlife women [age 40 to 60] have one or more risk factors for heart disease.”
Each year in February, the NHLBI and the American Heart Association (AHA) mark National Wear Red Day, a nationwide effort to raise awareness among women about the frequency and severity of heart disease. As part of their campaign, the NHLBI and the AHA urge women and their supporters to wear red as a reminder of the importance of heart health. (The campaign’s symbol, a pin in the shape of a red dress, was designed to remind women that heart disease isn’t only a man’s issue.)
This year, the NHLBI, for its campaign The Heart Truth, is holding an auction of red designer dresses worn by celebrities in the Red Dress 2009 Fashion Show, including Kelly Ripa’s dress, designed by Diane von Furstenberg; Vanessa Williams’s dress, designed by Carmen Marc Valvo; and Rachael Ray’s dress, designed by Donna Karan. Proceeds from the auction will benefit the Foundational for the National Institutes of Health and will be used for furthering research and awareness of women’s heart health.
Most of us are familiar with the risk factors for heart disease: High blood pressure; high cholesterol; diabetes; smoking; being overweight or obese; and getting insufficient exercise. But what’s less well known, according to the NHLBI, is the “multiplier effect”: Having one risk factor increases the likelihood of heart disease twofold, while having two factors increases it fourfold, and so on.
Overall, the statistics on women and heart disease are staggering: In 2004, the latest year for which figures are available, an estimated 332,000 women died of heart disease, while 41,000 women died of breast cancer, according to the NHLBI. But while those numbers can seem discouraging, experts emphasize that you can lower your risk of heart disease by up to 82 percent by making some lifestyle changes. And, according to the AHA, up to 80 percent of all cardiac illness could be prevented by starting some healthy habits. (Being proactive in your health care can also be lifesaving. Experts recommend getting regular checkups and cholesterol and blood pressure evaluations, and talking to your doctor about any unusual symptoms you might have.)
Among the NHLBI’s self-care suggestions: Keep yourself at an appropriate weight; exercise moderately 30 minutes most days, eat well and avoid as much saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol as possible, and, if you smoke, quit. Experts also urge women to mention any unusual symptoms to their doctors.