Respect Your Heart
February is heart month and yesterday, February 3rd, was National Wear Red Day, which found much of the senior staff at our hospital wearing vibrant red in order to draw attention to the fact that heart disease kills women. Often thought of as the number one killer of men, the fact that women are at such high risk for cardiovascular disease can come as a surprise. However, according to the Women’s Heart Foundation, 435,000 women have heart attacks annually and 267,000 die from them, as do 8.6 million worldwide. The average age for a heart attack in women is 70.4; though 83,000 are under age 65 and 35,000 are under 55.
According to the American Heart Association, one in 4 women in the US dies of heart disease. During a heart attack, blood flow to heart muscle is reduced or cut off, often because a blood clot blocks an artery. When heart muscle is starved of oxygen-rich blood, it dies. Women’s symptoms of a heart attack can be more subtle than men’s and include shortness of breath, weakness, unusual fatigue, nausea, dizziness, lower chest discomfort, upper abdominal discomfort (which can feel like indigestion) and pain or tightness in the chest which can spread to the jaw, neck, shoulders, ear, or inside of the arms.
What can you do to promote ideal cardiovascular health?
Eat well by limiting saturated fat and cholesterol (meat, cheese, butter), sodium (less than 1500 mg a day) sugar, alcohol and trans fatty acids. Eat a diet of fresh fruit and veggies, whole grains, oily fish 2x a week, high fiber foods, don’t smoke, daily exercise (even walking), cholesterol under 200, blood pressure less that 120/80 and total cholesterol under 200. The ideal waist circumference is less than 35 inches. Oh, and practice yoga.
Yoga and your heart
In addition to the obvious health benefits of yoga including stress reduction, and breath work, one of yoga’s many benefits is its focus on opening the chest area and the circulatory benefits that result from having the head lower than the heart. Dr. M Mala Cunningham has a website called www.cariacyoga.com in which some sample cardiac postures include twisting, lateral stretches and chest opening. Dr. Cunningham states “yoga can help lower blood pressure, increase lung capacity, improve respiratory function and heart rate, and boost circulation and muscle tone”. Mr. Iyengar has a series of poses in his book, Yoga the Path to Holistic Health specifically designed for Angina and Heart Attack. Below are 5 simple poses, which are easy to incorporate in to a short daily program to encourage heart health. Breathe fully in each pose and repeat as desired.
Cat/Cow: In quadruped, inhale and look up while elongating your spine into full extension (convex) while spreading your chest and collarbones, then exhale your spine into a curve (concave) while drawing your chest towards your upper back and dropping your head.
L-Pose: Place hands on counter top and walk your legs backwards until your trunk is parallel to the floor. Breathe into your chest and pull your shoulder blades on to your back. Bend and extend your knees, as is comfortable, to lengthen your spine.
Uttanasana (standing forward bend): Stand with feet hip width apart and bend forward from your hips, rest your head (and arms if possible) on the seat of a chair or stool.
Seated twist in chair: Sit facing the side of an armless chair and hold on to the back with both arms. Inhale as you extend your spine; exhale as you rotate your trunk toward the back of the chair.
Supported Savasana (supine chest opening): Lie down with your upper chest and head supported by firm pillows, blocks or a bolster. Make sure you are comfortable and try to have your head slightly higher than your heart. Open your arms to the side with palms up and take slow steady breaths breathing into your chest.
Who is at risk?
You are at risk for heart disease if you: smoke, have a poor diet, a lack of regular physical activity (30 minutes a day), are overweight with a Body Mass Index of over 25 (average BMI for a woman is between 18.5 and 24.9), family history of heart or vascular disease, blood pressure higher than 120/80, abnormal cholesterol levels (200 or higher or your HDL, good cholesterol, is less than 50), have lupus or RA, metabolic syndrome, or pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia or gestational diabetes.
Who is at high risk?
You are at high risk for heart disease if you have existing coronary heart disease, a stroke or carotid hear disease, blocked arteries in your legs, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, or an abdominal aortic aneurysm (weakness in the artery of your abdomen).