Anyone at least 40 years old may recall this catchy commercial jingle: “I can put the wash on the line, feed the kids, get dressed, pass out the kisses and get to work by five of nine …Cause I’m a woman, Enjoli.” The popular Enjoli perfume brand that made waves in the late 70s, also came out with these lyrics: “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, ever let you forget you’re a man, because I’m a woman, Enjoli.” The tag line for this commercial depicted the sign of the times, “The eight-hour perfume for the 24-hour woman.” (Watch this commercial on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_kzJ-f5C9U)
The ‘ 70s and ’80s continued to fuel a turning point for women as they more became heads of households, or at the very least, provided a secondary source of income that was crucial to keeping family finances solvent. Likewise, June Cleaver and Edith Bunker caricatures were replaced with characters from shows like Murphy Brown, Designing Women, and even the Golden Girls. As the so-called “traditional” women’s role changed in TV land and in real households, something else was rising to the surface: heart disease.
The American Heart Association (AHA) commemorates women’s heart health with Go Red For Women the first Friday each February. The day is important considering nearly 80 percent of cardiac events can be prevented, and cardiovascular disease is a woman’s greatest health threat. The entire month of February is devoted to heart disease awareness. And for good reason. It was only recently that heart disease awareness, once considered a man’s disease, was attributed to women.
According to the North Carolina Medical Journal (NCMJ), cardiovascular textbooks of the 1970s and 1980s did not mention the diagnosis and treatment of women with cardiovascular disease. Similarly, a survey of magazines that women might read (roughly 150-170 magazines) published in the early 2000s ran more than 100 articles on breast cancer compared with 10-15 articles on heart disease, according to NCMJ. Even more noteworthy, the Journal said during the same period only one in three health care providers were aware of the increased risk of cardiovascular disease among women – or counseled their patients on primary prevention.
Now the word is out. With help from the Go Red For Women annual campaign that started in the early 2000s, cardiovascular disease among women is declining. However, the numbers are still too high. [Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women — killing approximately one woman every minute — causing one in three deaths a year, according to AHA.] Comparatively, 1 in 31 American women die from breast cancer each year.
Just the facts from AHA
- Despite increases in awareness over the past decade, only 54 percent of women recognize that heart disease is the number 1 killer.
- 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
- Since 1984, more women than men have died each year from heart disease and the gap between men and women’s survival continues to widen.
- Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Black and white women in the United States – and roughly the same number of deaths for Hispanic women. American Indian or Alaska Native, and Asian or Pacific Islander women are more likely to succumb from cancer, with cardiovascular disease the second leading cause.
- The symptoms of heart disease can present differently in women than men and are often misunderstood.
Symptoms most common in women (AHA)
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in center of the chest. It lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back.
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
- As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.
The four Ps can help individuals remember the signs of a heart attack:
Pain – a continuous pain in the chest, which could spread to the jaw, neck or arms.
Rapid and weak pulse.
Controlled and Uncontrolled Risk Factors
As for risk factors, there are several. Some can be managed, while others cannot. Here are the controlled and uncontrolled risk factors from AHA:
Controlled risk factors
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Lack of regular activity
- Obesity or overweight
Another controlled risk factor is the connection between oral health and heart disease. “Oral health and heart disease are connected by the spread of bacteria – and other germs – from your mouth to other parts of your body through the bloodstream,” according to Colgate. Some serious cardiovascular problems are connected to dental disease. Endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart, atherosclerosis, clogged arteries, and stroke have also been linked to inflammation caused by oral bacteria, according to AHA and Mayo Clinic.
In addition to daily brushing and flossing, dental health is promoted by being careful to brush and floss hard-to-reach teeth and by regular visits to your dentist. A well-maintained mouth means a healthier body, and a healthier heart.
Uncontrolled risk factors
- Family history of heart disease
- Previous heart attack or stroke
Know your numbers
The University of Pittsburg Medical Center (UPMC) Heart and Vascular Institute provides these key heart health numbers individuals should know as an important step in lowering the risk for heart disease:
1. Blood Pressure: Blood pressure is the force of blood against the arteries. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease because it puts a strain on the heart and arteries.
- If your blood pressure is 120/80 most of the time, it is considered normal.
- If your blood pressure is more than 120/80 but less than 140/90 most of the time, it is considered prehypertension.
- If your blood pressure is usually 140/90 or higher, it is considered hypertension, or high blood pressure.
2. Body Mass Index: Also known as BMI, uses height and weight to measure the amount of body fat. Being overweight or obese raises the risk for heart disease and is linked to other serious conditions, like diabetes.
- Less than 18.5 = underweight
- 18.5 to 24.9 = normal weight
- 25 to 29.9 = overweight
- 30 or greater = obese
3. Blood Sugar Level: Also called blood glucose level, shows the amount of sugar in the blood. Over time, diabetes can damage the heart and blood vessels.
- Less than 100 mg/dl = normal
- 100 to 125 mg/dl = prediabetes
- 126 mg/dl or higher = diabetes
4. Total Cholesterol Level: Cholesterol is a soft, waxy substance found in the blood and all the body’s cells. While some cholesterol is needed to help digest food and make hormones, too much can lead to heart disease. Total cholesterol includes:
- HDL, or “good” cholesterol. HDL helps take away some LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, from your blood.
- LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. LDL can cause the buildup of plaque in your blood vessels.
- Triglycerides, a type of fat. Triglycerides are also linked to plaque buildup.
A simple blood test can measure total cholesterol level, and the results will be:
- 200 mg/dL or lower = normal
- 200 – 239 mg/dL = borderline high
- 240 mg/dL or higher = high
5. HDL Cholesterol Level: HDL, or high-density lipoprotein, is known as “good” cholesterol because it helps take away some of the LDL from the blood. For example:
- HDL of 60 or greater = high
- HDL of 40 or lower = low
For more information, visit https://share.upmc.com/2017/05/5-heart-health-numbers/.
Mitigating controlled risk factors through prayer and meditation
It’s no secret that a healthy diet, physical activity, low stress levels, adequate sleep, and healthy baseline numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, insulin), help mitigate the risk factors. accessHealth News recommends adding two more to this list: prayer and meditation. Every faith offers a central source to connect spiritually. The Christian faith offers the Holy Bible. Its doctrine teaches a relationship with Jesus Christ. Through prayer, fellowship with Christ, other Christians and church affiliation, spirituality can have an awesome effect on one’s mindset. Keep in mind there is a pronounced connection between the mind and body.
Several research studies support the power of prayer. In one National Institutes of Health funded study, individuals who prayed daily were shown to be 40 percent less likely to have high blood pressure than those without a regular prayer practice. Research at Dartmouth Medical School found that patients with strong religious beliefs who underwent elective heart surgery were three times more likely to recover than those who were less inclined to pray. There have been other studies that show prayer boosts the immune system and helps to lessen the severity and frequency of a wide range of illnesses. This is underscored by a recent survey reported in the Journal of Gerontology of 4,000 seniors in Durham, North Carolina. The survey found that people who prayed or meditated coped better with illness and lived longer than those who did not.
Simple ways to meditate
The Conscious Life provides these meditation techniques for beginners:
1. Choose a conducive environment. Find a quiet space without disturbances. Sit down, relax and rest your hands on your lap. You can sit on the floor cross-legged with the support of a meditation cushion, or on any chair with your feet resting on the ground.
2. Breathe slowly and deeply. Close your eyes softly. Direct your soft, unfocused gaze downwards. Begin by taking a few slow and deep breaths — inhaling with your nose and exhaling from your mouth. Don’t force your breathing; let it come naturally.
3. Be aware. When you are breathing deeply, you will begin to feel calmer and more relaxed. Now, focus your attention on your breathing. Be aware of each breath that you take in through your nose. Be mindful of each breath that you exhale with your mouth. Continue focusing on your breaths for as long as you like.
If you find your attention straying away from your breaths, just gently bring it back. It may happen many times. As you develop greater focus power, you will find it easier to concentrate.
4. Ending the session. When you are ready to end the session, open your eyes and stand up slowly. Stretch yourself and extend your increased awareness to your next activities.
Most experts recommend 10 to 15 minutes for each session, once or twice a day. Guides can help provide direction to those practicing meditations. Calm is the number one app for meditation and mindfulness. The app provides more than 100 guided meditations to help users manage anxiety, lower stress, and sleep better. “Calm is the perfect mindfulness app for beginners, but also includes hundreds of programs for intermediate and advanced users,” according their website. Features of the app include:
- Meditate: Learn the life-changing skill of meditation.
- Sleep: Get more restful sleep and wake up feeling refreshed.
- Body: Video lessons on mindful movement and gentle stretching.
- Music: Exclusive music to help users focus, relax, and sleep.
The Calm app is available on both Apple and Android devices. For more information, visit https://www.calm.com/.