February is Women's Heart Health month, and it's a good time to think about what you can do to lower your risk of heart disease. Some risk factors are genetic – such as a family history of heart disease at an early age. But other risk factors are well within your control.
Women often think of heart disease as something that only men have to worry about but in fact, heart disease is the leading killer of women in this country. Although a woman's risk may be lower before menopause, that risk rises to approximately the same as men's in the decade after menopause.
Here are some suggestions from the American Heart Association for lowering your personal risk of heart attack or stroke:
1. If you smoke, quit now. Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease as well as other serious health problems.
2. Get more exercise. At midlife, you should be physically active for at least 45 minutes every day. That doesn't mean you have to spend that time all at once. You can take a 20-minute walk at lunch, for example, and then another walk after dinner or early in the morning. The important thing is to get exercise every day.
3. Drink in moderation. Although some research has indicated that an occasional glass of red wine may be good for your heart, excessive drinking is bad for your heart. Current recommendations define moderate drinking as no more than three drinks on any single day for women and no more than four for men. A drink is 12 ounces of beer, 8 ounces of malt liquor, 5 ounces of table wine and 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
4. If you are overweight, lose the extra pounds. Even a 10 percent reduction in body weight can lower your risk.
5. Limit sodium to prevent high blood pressure. Check nutrition labels on processed food for the sodium content.
6. Talk to your doctor to understand how your personal medical history affects your risk.
7. Know your numbers. What is your blood pressure? Total cholesterol? These numbers will also help you understand your risk.