February is American Heart Month, so we thought this would be a great opportunity to address the number one killer of women: heart disease. If you’re about to leave the page thinking, “But I’m young, I’ve got nothing to worry about yet,” please keep reading—the statistics are unnerving. Every year, one in three women who dies has heart disease to blame. That’s more than all forms of cancer combined.
Fortunately, there’s a ton you can do to keep your heart acting—and looking!—young. That’s right: Hearts age just like other parts of your body. They get wrinkled and spotted and have fat where there shouldn’t be. But you do not have to let this happen. The things that will keep your ticker youthful and perky will make you feel and look your best, inside and out.
Take this information to heart.
Types of Heart Disease
This might sound weird, but it’s true: Heart disease isn’t just about your heart. Aging of your arteries affects your whole cardiovascular system, which comprises all the blood vessels running into and out of your heart and all over your body. One form of arterial aging, atherosclerosis, is a condition that develops when plaque builds up along the walls of arteries, reducing blood flow to and from the heart and to and from every organ in your body, including your brain, sexual organs and yes, your skin, too. As those passageways narrow, plaque and blood clots are more likely to form, blocking blood completely or rupturing, leading to heart attack or stroke.
Other problems include heart failure, in which the heart still pumps but not effectively; arrhythmia, or abnormal beating of the heart (too fast, too slow or irregularly); and problems with the valves between the heart’s four chambers. All of these are various ways that heart disease can present itself. But take heart: It doesn’t have to happen at all—ever!
How to Keep Your Heart Perky
Since it’s the organ that makes your whole body run, it’s no surprise that keeping your heart pumping with pep and perk can make you feel and look peppier and perkier for years to come. The unfortunate truth is that 90 percent of women have at least one of the risk factors for heart disease. But don’t lose heart: You can do something about each and every one of them! Whether you know you’re at high risk, know you’re not or don’t know at all, you can take steps now to keep the beat going.
Control cholesterol: Surely you’ve heard this one before: There’s good cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) and bad cholesterol (low-density lipoprotein, or LDL). When there is too much bad cholesterol in your blood, it forms lousy patches or injuries to your arteries, causing fatty streaks to build up along the walls of your arteries. Over time, inflammation turns those into bigger plaques that can slow or block the blood supply to your heart. Women should have LDL levels under 130 and HDLs over 55. To get the right balance, grease your diet with healthy fats from olive oil, avocados, fish and walnuts. (Not bad as far as prescriptions go, huh?)
Maintain healthy blood pressure: High blood pressure (aka hypertension) makes your heart work harder than it should and damages the blood vessels (the initial injury referred to above) that supply blood to vital organs, including—you guessed it—the heart. A healthy diet, regular exercise and not smoking (see below) will keep blood pressure normal. For those who already have or are predisposed to high blood pressure, manage stress, quit smoking (see below, again) and cut back on salt and foods high in saturated fat, like red meat. Know your number always, and do whatever you need to keep it close to 115/75, the ideal for reducing arterial aging.
Stop smoking: This is an easy one: If you smoke, quit. Now. Smoking doubles or quadruples your chances of getting heart disease, and the effects are worse for women than men—especially if you take birth control. Cigarette smoking damages blood vessels, increases the risk of blood clots that can block those blood vessels, decreases HDLs and raises blood pressure. You can sign up for our program (there is a charge) that is incredibly successful at EnforcerECoaching.com.
Stamp out stress: We all get stressed out. It’s life, right? You can’t click your heels and make it go away, but you can take action to keep it in check. Unmanaged stress takes a toll on your body in numerous ways, from upping blood pressure to making it hard to manage a healthy weight. Meditation is a great way to deal with pressure. And you can enlist your friends to help you—just ring them on the phone! But you must practice and call every day. You can also sign up for a program that teaches you how to manage stress (it really works!) at our companion site, BeautySage.com.
Get moving: Regular moderate exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke by 25 to 40 percent. Getting your heart rate up for at least 30 minutes every day mitigates a busload of risk factors including obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar and diabetes. The best program? Walk 10,000 steps a day. Get a pedometer, grab a buddy and get to stepping. You also need 30 minutes of weight lifting (resistance) exercise a week, and 20 minutes of cardio three times a week. Start slowly and build up. You’ll feel great and look great, too.
Fight genetics: A family history of heart disease might seem like a risk factor that’s beyond your control. Well, it’s not. You can do something about bad genes! A study in 2011 found that eating five or more servings a day of fruits and raw vegetables can turn off the number one gene for heart disease.
A good diet (one that avoids the five food felons), meditation and enough physical activity don’t just make (and keep) your cardiovascular system young. They do just as much for beauty—we’re talking younger-looking skin and fewer wrinkles and age spots. Good circulation gives your complexion a rosy glow and feeds hair follicles for thick, strong, shiny hair. The polyphenols in fresh fruit fight wrinkles, and maintaining blood sugar with whole grains aids weight loss.
This month, take some time to assess your risks and see what changes you can make in your life. Whether it’s walking to work, swapping white bread for 100% whole wheat or keeping a closer eye on your cholesterol, every little thing makes you look and feel younger.
We mean that… from the bottom of our hearts.
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