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Know the facts about heart health

Michele Borboa, MS is a freelance writer and editor specializing in health, fitness, food, lifestyle, and pets. Michele is a health and wellness expert, personal chef, cookbook author, and pet-lover based in Bozeman, Montana. She is also...

Facts that can save your life

Committing to a heart-healthy lifestyle may seem like committing to a drastic change in your lifestyle. Though it does require lifestyle modification, it may help keep your motivation high if you know why small or large changes in the way you live are necessary to keep your heart healthy and even save your life. Here are some surprising facts about heart health.

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women

Of the women who die, a woman in the US dies every minute from heart disease, stroke, and all other cardiovascular diseases. Cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer of women of all ethnic backgrounds, but less than half of women are aware of it. African American women are most at risk but heart disease and stroke are the leading causes of death for Hispanics. And only 40 percent of white women consider themselves wellâ€informed about heart disease.

More women than men die of cardiovascular disease

Though many women erroneously believe coronary heart disease is a "man's disease," at 40 years of age and older, more women than men, 23 percent compared to 18 percent, will actually die within one year after having a heart attack. Women tend to be older when they get heart
disease and many won't have any symptoms before a fatal heart event occurs. Learning more about heart disease and assessing your risks is paramount to prevention.

Secondhand smoke is deadly

It isn't news that smoking is bad for your health, but did you know that your smoke can be detrimental to those around you, too? According to the American Heart Association, each year around 38,000 people die from second-hand smoke. According to the CDC, 126,005 smoking-related deaths from CHD occurred during 2000 to 2004.

Kicking the habit cuts your risk of heart disease – quick

Smoking cigarettes tops the list as the most important preventable major risk factor of cardiovascular disease. No question kicking the habit can prove difficult. But, keep in mind, when you stop smoking, your risk of heart disease and stroke can be cut in half just one year later and continues to decline until it's as low as a nonsmoker's risk.

Birth control pills can pose a heart risk

Oral contraceptives can cause an increase in blood pressure – even lowâ€dose estrogen pills. The good news is studies have shown that blood pressure can return to normal after discontinuing oral contraceptives use. Additionally, if you are on the pill and smoke, you increase your risk of experiencing serious cardiovascular sideâ€effects and should work with your doctor on kicking the habit as well as using another type of birth control options.

Extra fat can raise your risk of heart disease

Having too much body fat, particularly around your waist, puts you at a higher risk of health problems. Experts say women with excess body fat are at a higher risk of heart disease even if they don't have other risk factors. That means you may think you are healthy despite being overweight, but in reality you are still actually at risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Pregnancy can cause an increase in blood pressure

As with extra nonpregnant weight, the weight you gain during pregnancy can raise your blood pressure (hypertension), particularly in the last trimester. Hypertension during pregnancy can endanger you and your baby. Talk to your doctor about maintaining a healthy pregnancy weight and other measures you can take to keep your blood pressure in check.

You don't have to be an athlete to lower your risk

Though one of the keys to lowering your heart disease risk is physical activity, it doesn't mean you have to train like a triathlete or spend hours at the gym every week. Moderate activities like walking, gardening, housework or dancing for at least 30 minutes on most days per week are enough to prove heart healthy.

High blood cholesterol has no symptoms

High cholesterol can cause build-up of plaque along the walls of your arteries, increasing your risk of heart attack and stroke. Unfortunately, high blood cholesterol doesn't have overt symptoms and can only be determined through a blood test from your doctor. If you don't know your cholesterol levels, make an appointment to get them checked.

Not all fats are bad

Even though it is recommended to steer away from saturated and trans fats, not all fats are bad for your health – but many people don't know the difference. According to a consumer survey conducted for the American Heart Association, fewer than half of Americans know that the "better" fats - monounsaturated and polyunsaturated (omega-3s) can actually help reduce their risk of heart disease. Read labels and avoid products high in saturated and trans fats, and keep a modest intake of foods containing unsaturated fats, such as olive oil, nuts, avocado and fatty fish.

Alcohol isn't necessarily heart-healthy

You've probably heard that drinking a glass of red wine a day is a heart-healthy move. Despite the evidence to support that, drinking too much alcohol can actually raise your blood pressure and cause heart failure and stroke. If you drink, limit yourself to one drink per day; and if you don't drink, don't start.

Illegal drugs can kill – even on the first use

Not only are illegal drugs against the law, they are also potentially deadly. Intravenous (IV) drug abuse carries a high risk of endocarditis, an infection of the heart's lining or valves, as well as stroke. Cocaine use can also cause heart attack or stroke. And illegal drugs can be fatal, even if you've never done them before.

More things you should know about heart health

Signs of a heart attack: What you need to know
10 Ways to reduce your risk of heart disease
7 Preventable heart disease risk factors

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