As some of you may know, I work as a Clinical Exercise Physiologist in Cardiac Rehabilitation. When I went into this profession, I had no real reason. My family does not have a strong history of heart disease. I just liked exercise, talking about exercise and counseling others on how to live a healthier life. Over the years, my reasons have changed. One of the big reasons are the people who become my patients that make me enjoy my job.
When someone has a heart event, often times they feel scared, alone and not sure of what the future holds for them. Cardiac Rehabilitation is a medically supervised program to help patients recover quickly and improve their overall physical, mental, and social functioning after an event. Essentially, it’s an exercise, education and support program to help patients learn how to live a healthier life. Research shows that patients who participate in Cardiac Rehab live longer and have a better quality of life than those that don’t.
I’ve seen a wide range of people who have been affected by heart disease whether it’s from Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery (CABG), Myocardial Infarction (MI), PCI/Stents, Stable Angina, Cardiomyopathy, or Valve Replacement/Repair. When I first entered the field 14+ years ago, most of my patients were at least 70 and older. While we still see older patients, we have also begun to see people in their 30s and 40s. The youngest patient I ever had was in her late 20s. It was scary that she was actually younger than me! And it’s not just here and there that we see younger patients. We recently had 8 patients out of 16 total who were 50 or younger. Most of them were otherwise healthy, exercised daily, ate “right” and were not overweight. The common link? All of them had a very strong family history of heart disease.
Unfortunately, you can not change your genetics. But that doesn’t mean you should start chain smoking, stop exercising and eat nothing but donuts and beer, either. Imagine if those patients of mine did not exercise, ate horribly day after day and were severely overweight? They most likely would not have survived their heart event.
So what risk factors can you control:
- Don’t smoke
- Manage your blood sugar
- Get your blood pressure under control
- Lower your cholesterol
- Know your family history
- Stay active
- Lose weight if overweight
- Eat healthy
Heart disease is the number one killer of women.
Stop for a second and reread the sentence above. Did you get that? Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Most women fear breast cancer. I know I do since my mom had breast cancer. Women routinely get their mammograms and do self checks each month. But what about your heart? Most women, especially younger women, think heart disease is something you don’t have to think about till you are at least 70.That’s not the case at all.
- Heart disease causes 1 in 3 women’s deaths each year, killing approximately one woman every minute.
- 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.
- The symptoms of heart disease can be different in women vs. men, and are often misunderstood.
- While 1 in 31 American women dies from breast cancer each year, 1 in 3 dies of heart disease.
Source: Go Red for Women
Media has conditioned us to believe that the telltale sign of a heart attack is extreme chest pain. But in reality, women are somewhat more likely to experience shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain. Other symptoms women should look out for are dizziness, lightheadedness or fainting, pain in the lower chest or upper abdomen and extreme fatigue.
Even if you’re a yoga-loving, marathon-running workout fiend, your risk for heart disease isn’t completely eliminated. Factors like cholesterol, eating habits and smoking can counterbalance your other healthy habits. You can be thin and have high cholesterol. The American Heart Association recommends you start getting your cholesterol checked at age 20, or earlier, if your family has a history of heart disease. Also, keep an eye on your blood pressure. Both high cholesterol and high blood pressure have no symptoms.
If you are already active, great! Keep it up! Physical activity is something that is linked to all the controllable risk factors of heart disease(diabetes, overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, stress, etc.). Make time for exercise by scheduling it in like you would a doctor’s appointment. You are worth the time!