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February 26th, 2014

Ways Women Can Lower Risk of Heart Disease

Did you know that for the past 20 years, heart disease in the U.S. has killed more women annually than men?

Why are women at a higher risk of dying from heart attack and stroke?

And what can women do to effectively fight back against the nation’s number one killer?

"There are four keys for lowering risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and heart attack, says women’s health expert Dr. Aimée Shunney:

1. Get on an anti-inflammatory diet

"Chronic inflammation is a major contributing factor to heart disease, therefore we want to decrease foods we’re allergic to or sensitive to," says Dr. Shunney. "Some of the major inflammatory foods are caffeine, alcohol, food additives, refined sugar, refined flour, corn, soy, gluten, dairy and eggs." Dr. Shunney says an anti-inflammatory diet would also include foods that have anti-inflammatory properties, like fatty fish, flax seeds, hemp seeds and walnuts as well as plenty of monounsaturated fatty acids from olives and olive oil, nuts, seeds and avocado. Fish oil supplements also provide anti-inflammatory benefits for the circulatory system.

"Also make sure you are eating good quality lean protein," says Dr. Shunney. "Too much red meat can be inflammatory, so focus on vegetarian sources of protein like nuts and seeds and fish, plus lean chicken and turkey. You also want complex carbohydrates including whole, non-gluten grains like millet and buckwheat. You’ll also want plenty of fruits and vegetables to give you vitamins and minerals. Green tea has anti-inflammatory properties, as does a little bit of chocolate, red wine and even beer (the hops in beer has profound anti-inflammatory properties). Fermented foods have good bacteria that help with digestion, and good digestion means low inflammation."

2. Be physically active every day

Dr. Shunney says research has shown that getting at least 30 minutes of physical activity on five or more days of the week can help lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol and keep your weight at a healthy level. But something is better than nothing, so if you’re doing nothing now, start out slow. Even 10 minutes at a time may offer some health benefits. Studies show that people who have achieved even a moderate level of fitness are much less likely to die early than those with a low fitness level.

3. Find your healthy weight

"Excess weight increases the heart’s work," says Dr. Shunney. "It also raises blood pressure and blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels and lowers HDL (good) cholesterol levels. It can make diabetes more likely to develop, too. Losing as few as 10 pounds can lower your heart disease risk. Check out the Body Mass Index calculator at the American Heart Association’s website. Your BMI is a numerical value of your weight in relation to your height and is a good indicator of whether you’re at a healthy or unhealthy weight. A BMI of less than 25 and more than 18.5 indicates a healthy weight."

4. Reduce stress

"The emotional qualities that we experience when we are stressed out will increase our C-reactive protein levels in the blood," says Dr. Shunney. "C-reactive protein is the best anti-inflammatory marker that we know. Emotions like anger, hostility, shame, depression actually increase inflammatory markers in the body. Being under stress also makes it harder for the body to turn off an acute stress response, which leads to chronic inflammation and increased risk for cardiovascular events."

Dr. Shunney says stress also triggers a tendency to make poor food choices, which leads to increased inflammation as well. "This is why it’s important to have anti-stress activities as part of your anti-inflammatory/cardiovascular health regimen. That activity could be different for everyone, from meditation, to gardening, to just relaxing and socializing with friends," says Dr. Shunney.

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