I first thought about heart disease 24 years ago.
My dad was being admitted to the hospital for triple bypass surgery. He was 46 years old.
A few years later I started nursing school. To make ends meet and score a free membership to the gym, I began teaching weekly aerobic and weight training classes.
Several years after working as a nurse, I landed a job in cardiology at The University of Pennsylvania Hospital. I saw men and women who were no longer able to take a shower without getting short of breath.
I performed testing on patients that were given the diagnosis of heart disease at the ripe age of 40. Working with extremely sick hearts further pushed my conviction to live a healthier life through diet and exercise.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women over the age of 40. Every year more than 400,000 women die from heart disease in the United States.
For many of us, it is a daily struggle, especially after having children, to maintain an ideal body weight. We are busy taking care of others and consider ourselves last. We often eat food on the run that has too many calories and little nutritional value. We go to bed at night exhausted, having let another day go by without moving our bodies in a healthy fashion.
Last winter I was feeling a little depressed and still carrying those few extra pounds of “baby weight.” I made a New Year’s resolution to go to the gym and work harder to get back in shape. My daughter is now eight, so child care is no longer an issue. I thought to myself, “no more excuses.” I was ready for a change. I cautiously entered my local health club to check out a Zumba class. I was a big fan of Latin dance (and Ricky Martin), so I figured it might be fun. The teacher turned on the music and I was hooked.
That was a year ago. I am now happier and 8 lbs. lighter.
Exercise is one way to be good to your heart.
In fact, physical inactivity is considered a major risk factor for developing heart disease.
According to the American Heart Association, there are other lifestyle changes that may lower the risk of developing this deadly disease.
Quit smoking — Smokers are twice as likely to die from sudden cardiac death as non-smokers.
Reduce high blood pressure — high blood pressure requires your heart to pump harder.
This may eventually increase your risk of heart attack, kidney failure and stroke.
Reduce high cholesterol and triglycerides — Know your numbers. You should discuss with your doctor your good vs. bad cholesterol. Your HDL or good cholesterol should be 50 mg/dL or higher. Most experts agree that LDL or bad cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL.
Triglycerides, a measurement of the amount of fat in your blood should be 150 mg/dL or less.
Lose weight — If you have excess body fat (especially around the waist) you are more likely to develop heart disease and stroke even if you do not have the other risk factors.
Eat less and fill half of your plate with vegetables. Choose healthier fats and proteins such as salmon, chicken and beans.
Control you blood sugar — Individuals with diabetes are at greater risk for heart attack and stroke.
Regarding sugar consumption, the American Heart Association has also asked that you consume no more than 100-150 calories a day from added sugar such as those found in soda and snack foods. Consuming high amounts of these foods can significantly contribute to obesity and poor cholesterol numbers which may increase the incidence of heart disease.