In last week’s (maiden) issue, this column mentioned that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women globally.
In men, the risk for heart attack increases steadily after 45 years of age, while the risk in women increases after 50 years of age. However, some researchers recently found out that increasing heart attacks are occurring among younger patients and the biggest increase appears to be among young women.
Risk factors are conditions that increase your chances of having a disease. Risk factors may either be modifiable, meaning you can change them, or non-modifiable, which means they cannot be changed.
With this knowledge on hand, women should be aware of measures they can take to modify or decrease their risks of developing heart disease.
Let us begin with lifestyle changes.
- Quit or don’t ever start smoking! Smoking is the most preventable risk factor.
- Maintain a healthy weight. A healthy weight varies among individuals but a normal body mass index (BMI) is recommended. It is calculated using a person’s height and weight (weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared). A BMI of 25 or higher is overweight and associated with a higher risk for heart attack.
- Increase physical activity or exercise regularly. It is recommended to have at least 150 minutes or 2 1/2 hours of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity (like brisk walking) every week and 75 minutes or 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (like jogging or running) every week or a combination of both.
- Maintain a healthy diet. Avoid diet that is high in saturated or trans fat. Stay away from added sugars or high amounts of salt. Eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, low fat or fat-free dairy products and lean meats.
Women should also control other risk factors by being compliant with prescribed medications for hypertension, diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and blood thinners like Aspirin. However, they should never initiate treatment by themselves but consult their doctors first.
There is nothing that can be done with age, gender and family history — these are the non-modifiable risk factors for heart disease. Fortunately, there are many ways to combat the modifiable ones (like smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, elevated blood pressure and elevated sugar), and they can be done with focus and determination.
Dr. Rhodette Enriquez Arevalo is an internist and a cardiologist, holding private medical practice in Ormoc City, Leyte. She is a Fellow of the Philippine College of Physicians and Philippine College of Cardiology. She is married to a businessman and they have a son. She is an abstract art collector, a foodie, and loves to travel. She is a staunch advocate of teaching laymen “Hands-Only Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation and the Use of Automated External Defibrillator,” for a CPR-Ready and AED-Equipped Philippines.