Friday, Feb. 1, is National Wear Red Day. It’s a day to shine a spotlight on heart disease, the No. 1 killer of women. Black women are disproportionately affected by heart disease; the death rate is 30 percent higher for Black women than their White counterparts. When it comes to preventing heart disease, awareness and action are powerful weapons.
For ten years, women have been fighting heart disease individually and together as part of the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women movement. More than 627,000 women’s lives have been saved, but the fight is far from over. In recognition of the 10th National Wear Red Day on February 1, 2013, Go Red For Women asks America to “Go Red” by wearing red to show your support of the cause.
“Heart disease kills more women than any other disease, including breast cancer. Just as heart disease is different in women as compared to men, it also differs when it comes to race. Black women and men are at highest risk for heart disease due to risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, physical inactivity and obesity,” said Dr. Jennifer H. Mieres, professor of Cardiology and Senior vice president, Office of Community and Public Health for North Shore-LIJ Health System in New York.
“The good news is that great strides have been made in prevention, early diagnosis, and treatment of heart disease. Taking action to be heart healthy is easier than you think — it’s never too late to get on the road to heart health and the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women movement is there to help you every step of the way,” she says.
Even though we are shining a spotlight on heart disease in February, American Heart Month, taking care of your heart should be a daily priority. Small steps can result in big gains in the fight against heart disease. Here are 10 tips to help you improve your heart health during American Heart Month and beyond:
1. Know your risk. One of every two Black women has heart disease or has had a stroke, yet a recent American Heart Association survey reveals that Black women are significantly less likely than white women to mention heart disease as the leading cause of death among women in the US. Black women are also more likely than White women to have heart disease because of risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, lack of exercise and obesity.
2. Get off your tush and choose to move. According to the American Heart Association, only 20 percent of African-American women in the United States are at a healthy weight and only 10 percent of African-American women get the recommended amounts of physical activity. To meet the aerobic or strengthening guidelines, the American Heart Association recommends moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, for as little as 30 minutes per day most days of the week. Grab a girlfriend, significant other or family member to be your exercise partner. There is power in partnership!
3. Eat more fish and cut down on red meat. Fish is a great alternative to high-fat meats as a source of protein and Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which help reduce the risk of death from coronary artery disease. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat at least two, 3-ounce servings a week of grilled/baked/poached salmon, mackerel, sardines, trout, bluefish, albacore tuna or herring to reap the heart-health benefits.
4. Shake the salt habit. Consuming excess salt is one of the main causes of high blood pressure and other related heart diseases. Up to 75 percent of salt intake is from processed foods. Become a salt detective, check food labels for salt content and seek low salt-foods that have 140 milligrams or less sodium per serving.
5. Cut the fat. Saturated fat is the one true dietary demon that you should make a conscious effort to cut out of your daily meals. It is the most potent type of cholesterol-raising fat you can eat. You should eat no more than 16 grams of saturated fat a day.
6. Color your plate to prevent heart disease. A balanced heart-healthy diet incudes food from all of the major food groups, with particular emphasis on vegetables, fruits and whole grains. The American Heart Association recommends that you eat four -and-a-half cups of fruits and vegetables per day to help give your heart a healthy boost. In addition, aim for six whole-grain products daily.
7. Limit alcohol intake. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. If you don’t drink, don’t start. The American Heart Association recommends an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women. (A drink is one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits.) Drinking more alcohol than recommended increases such dangers as alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity and stroke.
8. Kick Butts. Smoking doesn’t just cause a risk for lung cancer; smoking increases risk of heart disease and stroke by as much as 40 percent. Continuing to smoke throughout your life may shave off as many as 13-14 years. The good news is that when you stop smoking, your risk for heart disease and stroke can be cut in half just one year later and continues to decline until it’s as low as a nonsmoker’s risk.
9. Manage stress. Stress affects people in different ways, such as diminishes energy levels, increases heart rate and blood pressure, interrupts sleep and triggers unhealthy responses ranging from overeating to drinking excessive alcohol or smoking. Take steps to manage stress by sitting quietly for 15 minutes a day, relax and breathe deeply; try to do at least one thing every day that you enjoy for 10 minutes; engage in exercise, such as yoga, swimming, cycling, walking and take time to laugh.
10. Prevent recurring heart attack and stroke. According to the American Heart Association’s December 2012 journal, Circulation, if you have heart disease, a heart-healthy diet may prevent recurring heart attacks and strokes. A study found that adults with heart disease who ate a heart-healthy diet had a 35 percent reduction in risk of cardiovascular death; 14 percent reduction in risk for heart attack; and 19 percent reduction in risk for stroke.