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CindySays: Heart disease is a real killer

By Cindy Boggs

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Listen up, ladies. February is deserving of our attention.

It is Go Red for Women month, sponsored by the American Heart Association. This marks the 10th year of the movement to save women's lives from heart disease. There has been significant progress, but we still have a long way to go.

Did you know:

  • Heart disease is still the No. 1 killer of women, causing one in three deaths each year.
  • Heart disease kills more women than men, at an average rate of one death per minute.
  • Heart disease kills more women than all types of cancer combined.
  • While we are just beginning to scratch the surface of why women are such a target of heart disease, it raises the question: Do you know where you stand with this killer?

    What's on your radar?

    Recently at a social event, I listened to a group of women having a serious discussion on home safety. It seems as though gun violence and home invasions have placed families on high alert lately. They spoke passionately about how they were making preparations in case such a terrifying situation ever presented itself.

    Following the conversation, complete with details of gun purchases, sophisticated evacuation plans, gun safety classes, and a dedication of funds toward beefed-up home security, I drove home admiring their commitment to protecting their loved one's lives.

    One every 60 seconds

    This led me to look into the likelihood of a home invasion, and I was somewhat relieved when it produced words like "unlikely" and "uncommon." Then it struck me. The chance of a family losing their mother to heart disease was just the opposite.

    In fact, heart disease poses the No. 1 risk of death for women in the United States, killing nearly half a million women each year. It is also the leading cause of disability as two-thirds fail to make a full recovery.

    I wondered if these women were as committed to protecting their own bodies from heart disease -- something far more likely to strike them than a home invader.

    Misconceptions abound

    The American Heart Association's Go Red for Women movement advocates for more research and swifter action for women's heart health for this very reason. Let's clear up some of the myths women buy into so that we can lower our risk. See if you recognize any of these quotes:

  • "I'm too young to worry about heart disease." Even young and middle-aged people can develop heart problems, especially now that obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other risk factors are becoming more common at a younger age.
  • "I'd know if I had high blood pressure because there would be warning signs." You may never experience symptoms. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to check your numbers with a simple blood pressure test.
  • "I'll know when I'm having a heart attack because I'll have chest pain." Not necessarily. A heart attack may only have subtle symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness and pain or discomfort in arms, jaw, neck or back.
  • "Diabetes won't threaten my heart as long as I take my medication." Treating diabetes certainly helps, but you're still at increased risk for heart disease and stroke.
  • "Heart disease runs in my family, so there's nothing I can do to prevent it." You can absolutely reduce your risk even with a family history. Protect your heart by staying active, controlling cholesterol and blood sugar, eating healthy, managing blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight and stopping smoking.
  • "I don't need to have my cholesterol checked until I'm middle-aged." The American Heart Association recommends a cholesterol check at age 20 and even earlier if you do have a family history of cardiovascular disease.
  • A love affair

    Heart disease loves us, ladies, so please don't buy into the myths. Take an active role in your health by staying a step ahead of this killer. If you smoke, find a program that will help you stop; if you are sedentary, adopt a regular exercise regimen; if you haven't thought about your diet, start paying attention to the foods you eat; and if you haven't had your numbers checked lately, make an appointment with your health-care provider to learn your blood pressure, cholesterol and weight.

    Finally, in honor of American Heart Month, make it your goal to spread awareness about this important women's health issue by informing your social circles on how to minimize their risk of heart disease. It's certainly a conversation worth starting.

    Cindy Boggs, wellness presenter and author, is an ACE-certified instructor/trainer. Send your questions about fitness, training or health to cindysays@aol.com. Look for her award-winning fitness advice book, "CindySays ... You Can Find Health in Your Hectic World" on her website, www.cindysays.com.


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