Making Your Heart the Priority
Published in The Woman Today magazine, April/May 2016
Making Your Heart the Priority: Helpful Tips for Preventing Heart Disease from St. Luke’s
When we think of women’s health, we might first consider breast cancer screenings or an annual physical. And those are both very important. What we sometimes forget is that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, and that some lifestyle choices can have an impact on that statistic—if we make heart health a priority.
For St. Luke’s Cardiologist Dr. Disha Mookherjee and Cardiothoracic Surgeon Dr. Mary Boylan, heart health is always on their minds. Especially when it comes to female patients.
“Women often set the standard for health in their family,” explained Dr. Boylan. “But at the same time, they’re also more likely to focus on others’ health first.”
The key to getting women to prioritize their health, said Dr. Mookherjee, is to educate them about their risk.
“My goal is to prevent a first event,” Dr. Mookherjee explained. “The nice thing is there’s a lot you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease.”
Staving off Heart Disease
Prevention starts with knowing yourself and what changes to make. As Dr. Boylan stated, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Here are the steps you can take to help lower your risk.
1. Know your blood pressure.
According to the CDC, more than 67 million Americans have high blood pressure. The problem is that not everyone knows it. Schedule a well-woman visit today to discuss blood pressure, family history and lifestyle with your doctor.
2. Make time to move.
Once you have an understanding of your personal health, you can start making changes to improve it. Physical activity, for one, is great for controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and even your mental outlook.
To introduce physical activity into your life, Dr. Mookherjee suggests gathering support around you, starting small and setting a deadline by signing up for an event such as a 1-mile or 5K run/walk.
“Ultimately, the best exercise is the one a person will do,” Dr. Boylan explained. That can mean walking, climbing the stairs, skiing, swimming or yoga.
3. Fill your fridge with goodness.
What does it mean to “eat well?” To Dr. Mookherjee, it’s about cooking at home. “Start with fresh produce and single ingredients, and cook from scratch instead of buying things that only require you to add water, heat and serve,” she explained.
4. Schedule time to unwind.
“A huge part of heart health is taking time for yourself,” said Dr. Mookherjee. “Life’s stresses—worrying about our kids, our jobs, or putting food on the table—puts your fight-or-flight response through the roof.”
Meditating, taking time to calm your body and mind, and simply breathing can be beneficial for stress management. Of course, making time isn’t always easy. Dr. Mookherjee suggests that just as you train your body to exercise, you should train yourself to calm down and be restful.
“If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of people around you.”
5. Know the signs of a heart attack.
Women may experience heart attacks differently than men, so knowing what a heart attack might look like is critical. Women may feel discomfort in their chest, between shoulder blades or in the neck and jaw; sudden and severe fatigue; sweating; nausea or vomiting or not feeling like themselves. If you notice one or all of these symptoms, don’t hesitate, call 911.
Dr. Mookherjee explained that too many people ignore their symptoms. When a person is having a heart attack, time is muscle. The sooner blood flow can be restored, the better the outcome will be.
Small Choices for Lasting Change
Change doesn’t happen overnight, but little improvements can have a big impact. There will never be a better time than now to eat better, exercise more and quit smoking. “Choose a smaller portion. Choose to take the stairs. Choose to go to bed earlier,” said Dr. Boylan. “Make the choice for your own health to do something instead of thinking about it as limiting or restricting your life.”
“When we live healthier, our families get the benefit,” said Dr. Boylan. “We can model healthy behaviors for our kids.”