6 Things You Can Do to Help Your Heart Right Now

woman holding up red heart

Hate to be a downer, but it needs to be said (repeatedly): heart disease is the #1 killer of women. Approximately one in three women dies because of heart problems every year ... which works out to be one woman EVERY minute.


Ninety percent of women have at least one risk factor for developing heart disease, from physical inactivity to high cholesterol. (Hey, we warned you that this was a downer.)

"Many Americans don't realize how consistently unhealthy eating habits and lack of exercise damage the heart," notes Robert Korn, MD, medical director of Northwell-GoHealth Urgent Care in the greater New York area.

But before you close out this story and distract yourself with something much more cheerful -- like the upcoming Gilmore Girls revival -- let us reassure you that all is not lost!

Making small changes to your lifestyle can protect your heart more than you think. In fact, according to the American Heart Association's Go Red campaign, doing so likely saves the lives of 330 women every DAY.

"It's never too early to start caring about heart health," agrees Dr. Korn, "even by making small changes at a time."

Here's how to start:

1. Shed those extra pounds. You've been meaning to do it anyway. If looking good in your tankini isn't reason enough, here's a more important one: Getting down to a healthy weight "will help reduce your risk of heart failure and coronary heart disease," says Dr. Korn.

2. Give up the junk. Yup, we're talking about the potato chips, soda, and beloved peanut butter cups in your pantry. Your body needs to crank out some serious insulin to regulate all that sugar, which causes your blood sugar levels to take a dive, which THEN causes you to crave more junky food to keep going. "Break this cycle by steering clear of carbohydrates, sugars, and processed foods," says Dr. Korn.

3. Sit less. Even if you're working out an hour each day, you're not doing your heart any favors by sitting for the other 23. Sometimes it's unavoidable, so no judgments. But break up long periods of sitting by stretching, doing a few quick yoga moves, or taking a quick walk. And when you have the option to stand rather than sit -- take it.

4. Hide your salt shaker. True, we wouldn't want to live in a world with unsalted french fries. But "you only need two grams of salt per day," Dr. Korn notes. Load up on processed foods and you'll get waaaay more than that. Sodium raises your blood pressure and forces your heart to work harder than it should.

Make a habit of reading nutrition labels and steering clear of those with high sodium. You can also try flavoring your food with fresh herbs, salt-free seasonings, or a squeeze of lemon or lime instead.

More from The Stir: Heart Attack Signs in Women Look Very Different From Those in Men

5. Stop stressing so much. We know: easier said than done. But since stress is linked to heart disease, it behooves you to learn to take it easy already. Get at least six hours of sleep every night. Use "to do" lists to help you keep organized. Cut back on coffee, smoking, and alcohol, since those only exacerbate your stress. And when you can, have a good laugh over how freaking stressful life is.

6. Be aware of EARLY heart disease symptoms. In general, "any symptom above the belly button that is triggered by exertion and relieved with rest is concerning," says Dr. Korn. Some other red flags: squeezing chest pain or heaviness, jaw pain, shoulder pain, toothache, indigestion, shortness of breath, and sweating.

Any of these could indicate a blockage in your arteries that supply oxygen to your heart muscle. True, they could also be symptoms of many other less-scary medical conditions. But trust your gut -- and your heart -- and seek medical advice if you experience any of these.


Image via Syda Productions/Shutterstock

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