Healthy Hearts For Women

I know it’s only January, but I’m eager to start thinking about how February celebrates heart health and how important it is to renew and restart our effort to strengthen our own heart health. February is the month dearest to my heart. Valentine’s Day reminds me of heart felt love, but most of all February is American Heart month reminding us to love our own hearts with a healthy lifestyle and to follow our doctor’s advice. Just how well are you taking care of your heart so it can keep on loving? One in four Americans will die of heart disease, but the good news is we have better medications and treatments so we are living longer with it. But, do we have to develop heart disease?

Women, listen up. We think of heart disease as “an old man’s disease”, but women are every bit as vulnerable especially after menopause, as men are.  It isn’t just older women who are at risk either. A concerning trend reported in the AHA journal, Circulation (November 2018) found an increasing number of young people aged 35 to 54 years were developing heart disease with significantly more women than men causing the surprising increase. The suspected cause is the ever increasing amount of overweight and obesity that triggers type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure and consequently heart disease.

Preventing and managing heart disease is about lifestyle, especially our eating habits and nutrition. The healthy eating answer seems to lie in the Mediterranean Diet, a plant-based way of eating focused on fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans and lentils, less meat and low in saturated fat, salt and sugar. Think soups, salads, and recipes that are simple, fresh and colorful. A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (December 2018) showed women who followed a Mediterranean Diet had less arterial inflammation, better blood pressure, a lower weight and a lower risk for a cardiovascular disease event. US News and World Report ranks the Mediterranean Diet the best overall diet for 2019. It’s a more of a lifestyle than a diet that encourages socializing during meals, eating favorite foods, and developing a habit of mindful exercise. CLICK HERE

If cooking isn’t for you, but eating out is, you have healthy options. Go to the salad and soup part of the menu or order fresh supermarket meal kits. Fast food restaurants offer fresh salads, too. Fresh fruit can tag along with you to work or play and be enjoyed as a snack between meals.

If you smoke, stop. Develop a physical activity plan especially if you sit at work. Reduce stress with mindful meditation. Engage your family in making changes, too.

Women need to know the signs of having a heart attack are often different than those for men. According to the American Heart Association if you have any of the following signs, call 9-1-1 and get to a hospital right away.

  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  • As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest painor discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Commit to better health. Eat smart, move more and manage blood pressure so you and your healthy heart can keep living and loving.

Cooking Tips

Greek Yogurt Fruit Cup
I like to use nonfat plain Greek yogurt made with skim milk for snacks, desserts and breakfast as it provides a good source of calcium.

Spoon 1 cup of nonfat Greek yogurt into a cup, bowl or glass. Stir in 1/2 cup mixed fresh or frozen berries. Top with 2 tablespoons chopped walnuts or pecans.  Optional: Use Stevia for sweetening. Any fruit cut in pieces can be substituted for berries. Calories: 270

Cookbook Recommendation: The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen

Note: There are lots of cookbooks to inspire your Mediterranean menus and meals.

Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator

Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.

On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Mimi Cunningham for her contribution to our community website and commitment to healthy living and aging.