According to the American Heart Association, more than 42 million women in the United States are living with cardiovascular disease. This means heart disease is the No. 1 killer of all America women. But there is good news: Both heart disease and heart attacks can be prevented if you follow a few simple steps. Nutritionist and TODAY contributor Joy Bauer has five steps women of all ages should follow in order to keep a healthy heart.
1. Know your cholesterol and keep it in check
Here’s what your optimal numbers should be:
Total cholesterol: < 200
LDL-cholesterol: < 100
HDL-cholesterol: 40 or higher
Cholesterol ratio (total chol/HDL): less than 5
2.Know your blood pressure and keep it in check
Blood pressure is the pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure has two readings — systolic and diastolic. The higher (systolic) number represents the pressure while the heart contracts to pump blood to the body. The lower (diastolic) number represents the pressure when the heart relaxes between beats. Blood pressure below 120/80 mmHg is considered optimal for adults.
3. Be physically active — every day
Regular exercise helps control your weight (which in turn helps lower LDL-cholesterol and blood pressure). What’s more, according to a meta-analysis published this year in the “Archives of Internal Medicine,” exercise also appears to increase levels of HDL-cholesterol — that’s the good cholesterol that lowers your risk for heart disease. On most days, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity (60-90 minutes to lose or maintain weight loss).
4. Minimize your middle
It’s always important to maintain, or lose weight if you’re overweight, by balancing physical activity with a calorie-appropriate diet. However, when it comes to heart-disease risk, research shows that where you carry fat — NOT necessarily how much fat you’re carrying — markedly increases the risk of calcium and plaque buildup in the arteries of the heart. Abdominal fat — as opposed to fat around the hips — seems to trigger a chain of inflammatory activities that translates into harmful metabolic changes and plaque buildup … and ultimately heart disease. In other words, the bigger your belly is in relationship to your hips (this is known as the “waist-to-hip ratio”) is a better indicator of early signs of heart disease than other common measures of overweight and obesity, such as body mass index (BMI) and height/weight charts.
Know your waist-to-hip ratio. Here’s how it works:
- While standing, use a tape measure to measure your waist in inches at its smallest point OR at your navel (without holding in or pushing out your tummy).
- Next, measure your hips in inches at the widest area.
- Lastly, divide your waist measurement by your hip measurement.
For example, if your waist measures 38” and your hips measure 38” … you’re 1.0.
Ideal waist-to-hip ratio:
- For men, .9 or less is considered safe.
- For women, .8 or less is considered safe.
For both men and women, 1.0 or higher is considered “at risk” for heart disease
The good news is that even small improvements prove to be beneficial. Lose an inch or two off your waist and you’re already better off.
5. Eat a heart-healthy diet
Incorporate the following 5 guidelines:
- Eat plenty of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.
- Limit saturated fat to less than 7% of calories.
- Limit sodium to less than 2,300 mg/day.
- Limit alcohol to one drink/day for women and 2 drinks/day for men.
- Eat fish rich in omega-3 fats 3 times a week (wild salmon, mackerel, sardines, herring, lake trout and Pacific oysters).
Joy Bauer is the author of “Food Cures.” For more information on healthy eating, check out Joy’s Web site at www.joybauernutrition.com