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A woman’s guide to a healthy heart

A woman’s work is never done. From multi-tasking at work or home to maintaining a hectic schedule, they are all considered normal stresses of everyday life.

But new medical research has shown that emotional stress is a risk factor for heart disease, particularly in women.  The Myocardial Infarction and Mental Stress Study (MIMS) found that not only do women have decreased blood flow to their hearts when exposed to emotional stress (a condition called ischemia), but they are more likely to have ischemia when compared to similar-aged men.

“Men and women are indeed different, particularly when it comes to heart disease,” says Kirk Laman, D.O., a cardiologist and member of the women's heart team at Piedmont Heart Institute and author of “How to Heal Your Broken Heart- A Cardiologist’s Secrets for Physical, Emotional and Spiritual Health.”

“Not only are women more likely to have a different quality of pain when compared to men, women are even more likely to suffer complications from heart blockages.”

But don’t despair.  Even if you feel stressed, heart disease isn’t inevitable. Dr. Laman shares three simple tips to keep your heart healthy for years to come.

Tip #1:  Don’t ignore your stressful feelings. Acknowledge that you are stressed out.  

“Most women just assume that the frantic pace of their lives is normal,” Dr. Laman says. “They push aside feelings of being overwhelmed.”

Ignoring stress isn’t only misguided, it can be downright dangerous.

“It’s well-known that stress alone can cause heart disease,” Dr. Laman says.  “Stress cardiomyopathy is a sudden severe weakening of the heart muscle that can occur quickly due to feelings of overwhelming stress.”

This can be the result of a catastrophic event or can even be caused by chronic work-related stress.

Tip #2:  Take control of what you eat. Medical studies have shown that 80 percent of all heart disease is preventable through lifestyle changes.  And perhaps the most important lifestyle change is to modify what you eat.

“We need to eat to put out the fire of inflammation,” Dr. Laman says.  “When your heart arteries become inflamed they stop working like they should.  They allow cholesterol to build up inside the one cell layer called the intima.  And as more and more cholesterol accumulates, heart disease is created.”

Dr. Laman says you should avoid foods that cause inflammation, like saturated fat in dark cuts of beef, pork, and chicken, or saturated fat in milk, and dairy products.  Instead, start choosing to eat fresh fruits, nuts, bean and plenty of vegetables. Record all the foods you eat in a food tracking app.  Discover how much fat your food contains and how many calories you are consuming.

Tip #3: Develop a habit of relaxation. Constant connection to the Internet, through email, Facebook and Twitter can lead to tremendous sensory overload, which can be damaging to your health. It's essential to develop a habit of relaxation.

“We all know that if you want to get into shape or learn to play a musical instrument you have to consistently practice these activities,” Dr. Laman says. “You have to make them a habit.  The same can be said of relaxation. We won't get the benefits from relaxation by relaxing once a month. We need to have a consistent habit of practicing relaxation.”

Yoga, tai chi, active meditation, mindfulness, and guided imagery are just a few of the activities that can lead to a reduction of cardiovascular risk.

“What’s important is to find a form of relaxation that works for you and then work at it,” Dr. Laman says.

Utilizing these three tips and incorporating them into your life on a consistent basis can go a long way toward improving your heart health for the rest of your life.

For more information on heart health, click here.

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