My Mom, My Heart: My Tips for Women’s Heart Health

I write this today, February 15, 2014, on my beloved mother’s birthday.  She had her first heart attack in October of 2003.  She died of a second heart attack three months later in January of 2004.  A day after her death, in a fog of grief and disbelief, I answered a call from her cardiologist’s office.  He wanted her to switch cholesterol medications because her cholesterol was still high in spite of the current medication she was taking.  Cholesterol medication?  I wasn’t aware she had been diagnosed with high cholesterol.  My mother had never taken a statin before.  She had never mentioned that she had high cholesterol.  Is that because she didn’t know?  Hadn’t she been screened before then?  She was 70 years old.  Certainly lab work had been done prior to her collapse on the kitchen floor.

I still don’t know the answers to those questions. But what I do know is women die of heart disease every day – without knowing the risk heart disease poses to them. According to the American Heart Association, 46% of women are unaware that heart disease is the greatest health problem facing women today.   That’s a staggering number for such a killer disease – a disease that kills 1 in 3 American women.  And for the aging female, that risk increases with declining estrogen levels.  What’s a woman to do?

  • Know your numbers!  I’m sure you have heard that phrase before, but it helps to know what you’re starting with so you can plan (see next action step) where you’d like to end up:  cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar to name a few.
  • Develop an eating plan from the heart, then heartily commit to it.  Are you eating too much salt?  How often do you eat out?  Do you eat a lot of highly processed foods?  Identify 3 things in your diet that need improving and start there.  Trying to change too many things at once can be overwhelming.
  • Bust a move for your heart!  Exercise lowers your blood pressure, helps you lose weight, increases your good cholesterol (HDL), reduces your bad cholesterol (LDL), and increases your insulin sensitivity.  Yes, we’re all busy, but make time.  If you don’t make time for yourself, no one else will.  So start by taking a walk – it’s easy, it’s free, and can be done almost anywhere.

I have a constant ache in my heart since losing my mother – an ache that’s eased by many wonderful memories.  I had the good fortune of being born to a woman I loved and respected.  She would want me to be healthy.  She would want me to “Go Red” for women.  I want ALL women to “Go Red.”

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