Don't be surprised if you see your friends and coworkers sporting lots of crimson today. Friday is National Wear Red Day, an effort to raise awareness about heart disease— the No. 1 killer of women and more deadly than all forms of cancer, according to the American Heart Association. Organizers want women to know heart disease doesn't just happen to old people and men. So what can you do to take better care of your heart? Dr. Tara Narula, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, offers some simple steps.
1. Make your health a priority: Go to the doctor, recognize and pay attention to any symptoms, and get your risk assessed. You are the best champion of your health.
2. Aim to get enough sleep: Roughly 7-8 hours a night is a good amount. Sufficient rest has been linked to lower rates of cardiovascular disease.
3. Read the labels on your food: In particular, pay attention to your sodium intake, which should be less than 1,500 mg a day. Limit processed foods, choose fresh fruits and vegetables, and use spices, herbs, lemon juice to flavor your dishes instead of adding salt. Also, avoid trans fats, and limit saturated fats and cholesterol.
4. Make time for physical activity to your life in any and every way: Overall, this will improve your circulation, weight, cholesterol, blood pressure and stress levels. The goal is moderate level of exercise 30 minutes a day, which can reduce coronary heart disease in women by 30-40 percent and the risk of stroke by 20 percent. Walking is easiest way!
5. Manage your stress: You can accomplish this by using positive self-talk, laughing, and doing something you enjoy every day. Mediation, yoga and deep breathing make a difference, too. Get help for any mental health conditions like depression and anxiety -- all of these are linked to heart disease.
6. Use your OB/GYN visit to your advantage: There are links between polycystic ovary syndrome, pre-eclampsia/eclampsia and hormonal status and an increased cardiovascular risk. If you have any of these conditions, you should consider an early evaluation with a cardiologist.
7. Find foods full of flavonoids: These include cranberries, tea, apples, onions and cocoa. Also, light alcohol use -- one drink a day for women -- is associated with reduced coronary heart disease risk, compared with non-drinkers or heavy drinkers. Red wine may be most protective as it contains flavonoids, which are linked to better blood vessel health.