I bet when you think of a heart attack, you imagine an older, larger man clutching his left arm before crashing to the ground. You probably don’t immediately think of your Aunt Susan or your best friend Kim, or your son’s teacher Mrs. Dhaliwal. Maybe because Auntie Sue always seems to have so much energy and Kim is young and Mrs. Dhaliwal…well, she’s a woman and women have 99 health issues but heart disease isn’t one of them. Right? Wrong!
Here are some scary statistics you need to know about, straight from the Women’s Heart Health Report of 2018:
Every 20 minutes a woman in Canada dies of heart disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of premature death for Canadian women.
5 times more women die from heart disease than breast cancer.
Early heart attack signs were missed in 78% of women.
Women who have a heart attack are more likely to suffer or die from a second heart attack than men.
Why the gender bias then when it comes to heart disease?
The bias begins in research. Two thirds of clinical research on heart disease focuses on men and is then applied to the entire population. This makes no sense when women’s hearts are anatomically different from men. Our research is sub-par, and our testing methods follow suit. You can’t get accurate information about a woman’s heart from a machine that is designed to test a man’s. According to Yves Savoie, CEO of Heart & Stroke, “Women’s hearts are still misunderstood. We are decades behind in our knowledge of the differences between men’s and women’s hearts.”
The Women’s Heart Health Report http://www.heartandstroke.ca/-/media/pdf-files/canada/2018-heart-month/hs_2018-heart-report_en.ashx?la=en&hash=3BBC7F1DD1DA3EDC6B2B0E9BB31E855268C051EB put out earlier this year by Heart & Stroke is telling and terrifying – but important to read and understand. Ladies, knowledge is power. And teaming up with a medical professional you trust is a great part of advocating for your own best health.
In my practice, my focus is on preventative care for this life-giving organ. Each patient is different and requires a customized plan but there are some general things you can do to keep your heart happy.
HERE ARE 5 TIPS TO HELP YOU LOVE YOUR HEART
- Eat a low-sodium diet that is loaded with fruits and vegetables. Remember, not all vegetables are created equal – swap a Caesar salad for a quinoa and black bean salad the next time you are out for lunch. Think of it as making one choice at a time. When you feel hungry next, make the best choice you can.
- Work that muscle! And do it in a sustainable, fun way that is perfect for you. That might mean starting out twice a week with a personal trainer. Or it could mean looking up videos on how to use the stairs at home to work out your glutes and quads. Throw in some music! Choose to make this your time. And if you start out slowly and then build up, you’re more likely to continue working out over a longer period of time than if you burn yourself out at the gym 6 days a week.
- Look for ways to reduce stress. Ok, easier said than done, you tell me. I get it. I’m a mom and I work and I do everything I can for my family. But I know that if I don’t take some time for myself, I start to lose my edge. Working out helps me reduce stress but so does saying ‘no’ to things I really don’t want to invest my time in. It’s going to look different for everyone but if you can work in one way to reduce stress at this point, that is a great start! It’s amazing what an hour in the garden by yourself can do if you’re someone who loves to connect in Nature. Lowering stress reduces your blood pressure which significantly decreases your chance of a heart attack.
- Take heart-healthy supplements to support everything else you do. There are many different brands and products that you can find in health food stores; it’s best to check with your naturopath to decide what would work for you. In general, CoQ10, magnesium and omega 3’s are noted for their heart-healthy properties. CoQ10 can increase levels of HDL (also known as the ‘good’ cholesterol) tipping the ratio in favour of a happy heart. If you experience palpitations, you may be deficient in magnesium which is responsible for innervating the nerves that keep the heart beating regularly. And if you haven’t jumped on the omega 3’s bandwagon, you may want to look into this. Fatty oils from fish like salmon, mackerel and herring are known to decrease triglycerides and lower blood pressure among other amazing benefits.
- Keep a record of any symptoms that bother you. Sometimes by the time we get in to see a medical professional, we forget the details of the incidents we want to talk about. Like how long a palpitation lasted, or when it occurred, or what else was happening at the time. These could be important details to mention so it’s best to keep track somewhere. Along the same vein, if you are dissatisfied with your visit or didn’t feel ‘heard,’ advocate for yourself by speaking up again. And if you are still not feeling comfortable with the results of a visit, try a second opinion.
You have many people counting on you to live a long, healthy life but there’s no one more in control of that than you. It’s important that medical research catch up to the point where more is known about a woman’s heart and what makes it tick – and what makes it not – but in the meantime, there is a lot you can do to advocate for yourself and take care of your precious heart.