You probably already know that February is American Heart Month, which is the American Heart Association's annual campaign to raise the awareness of the importance of heart health when it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease and stroke. But we bet you don't know everything about heart health — especially when it comes to women.
We recently chatted with Dr. Marc Gillinov and Dr. Steven Nissen, MD, authors of Heart 411
, for five misconceptions about women's heart health, along with their top tips on how to improve your heart health starting this month!
5 Biggest Women's Heart Health Myths
1. Women don't get heart disease. Although there's a lot of focus on breast cancer risk, a woman is actually six times as likely to die of cardiovascular disease as she is from breast cancer. And it's coronary heart disease — blockages in arteries of the heart that can cause heart attacks — that is the most common form of heart disease, Gillinov says.
2. Women don't get chest pain when they have heart attacks. Although a heart attack without chest pain is a bit more common in women than in men, chest pain is still the most common symptom of a heart attack for women and men, Gillinov says. Typical chest pain is a squeezing pain, fullness or heaviness in the chest. Women are slightly more likely than men to experience atypical chest pain, which may be burning or sharp and of a shorter duration.
"In these cases, clues to the diagnosis include shortness of breath, weakness, fatigue, sweating, nausea, dizziness and back pain," he says. "Overall, though, the key message is this: Don't ignore chest pain. If you develop chest pain and it lasts more than a few minutes, call 911."
3. Young women never suffer heart attacks. It's a myth that estrogen makes women heart-attack-proof, Gillinov says, because even young women can have heart attacks. And the risk factors leading to a heart attack are the 'usual' suspects — smoking, cholesterol abnormalities, high blood pressure, poor diet, obesity, he says.
4. Compared to men, women always do worse after having a heart attack. Thankfully, this one is no longer true. "We have excellent treatments for women," Gillinov says.
5. Statins don't work in women. Again, this just isn't the case. Statins are an effective treatment for both men and women.
So what can you do to improve the health of your heart? Well, it's actually pretty easy. Gillinov recommends eating a tasty, variety-filled Mediterranean-style diet with an appropriate number of calories, and talking to your doctor about your heart and your overall health. In fact, it's very important to "know your numbers" no matter how old you are, Gillinov says. That includes getting your cholesterol, blood pressure and body mass index checked each and every year.
You should also — of course — get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day.
"Just walking briskly for 30 minutes a day does the trick!" he says. "Commit to exercise every day. You will feel better, look better and do your heart a favor."
Did you learn anything new? How do you keep your heart healthy?
Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomedGirls.com and FitBottomedMamas.com. A certified personal trainer, lifestyle and weight management coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and regularly writes about all things fitness and wellness for various online publications.