Every year, cardiovascular disease (CVD) kills more people than cancer, malaria, AIDS, and tuberculosis combined. Let me repeat that: combined. More than 17 million people, many of them women and children. That’s right. The stereotype of rich, white men dying of heart attacks is mostly just that. One in every three women will die from CVD, and approximately 1 million children are born every year with congenital heart defects.
This year, the World Heart Federation’s (WHF) World Heart Day campaign focuses on the cardiovascular risks that women and children face. Tomorrow, 29 September, millions worldwide will take steps to prevent CVD. Many health organizations are sponsoring walks, clinics, and seminars to educate the public about the dangers of CVD.
To prevent heart attacks and stroke, the WHF suggests that you follow these simple steps:
- Get active.
Just 30 minutes of activity every day can reduce your risk. These activities can be simple things like vacuuming, walking the dog, or playing with your grandchildren. You don’t need to lift weights or run 5Ks to get active, although these activities certainly qualify. I am very fortunate in Mumbai to be able to walk almost everywhere I need to go and to have a beautiful park across the street from my flat.
- Stop smoking.
I have never smoked, but I understand that kicking a tobacco addiction can be a challenge. If you have tried and failed, try again. It’s worth seeing your kids and grandkids grow up.
- Maintain a healthy weight.
Maintaining a healthy weight does not mean being as skinny as possible. A healthy weight is more about fitness than about the number on the scale. Someone who is 135 lb can be at a healthier weight than someone who is 100 lb and completely out of shape.
- Know your numbers.
High blood pressure and cholesterol are the biggest risk factors for CVD. Get them checked regularly. Be aware of portion sizes. In the US, portions are huge. Fortunately, in India, portions tend to be more reasonable. Remember that sharing that main course with a loved one will be better for you in the long run, physically and emotionally.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet.
You know the drill. Eat more veggies and fruit. Eat less salt and other garbage. The recommendation is one teaspoon of salt per day. Honestly, this is probably my biggest hurdle to a heart-healthy diet. I have a salt weakness, and my Addison’s causes salt cravings when my metabolism is out of sync. I have salted condensed soup. That is a serious craving.
- Know the symptoms of heart attack and stroke.
For women, the classic heart attack symptom of shooting pain down your left arm probably won’t happen. Women’s symptoms tend to be more diffuse and often involve more generalized discomfort.
For heart attacks, know these symptoms:
- Shortness of breath, unexplained weakness or fatigue, anxiety or unusual nervousness, indigestion or gas-like pain, breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, lightheadedness, and collapse. One woman out of every four having a heart attack experiences these symptoms, but does not recognize them. These symptoms may occur with or without chest discomfort.
- Chest discomfort, including squeezing, discomfort or pain in the center of the chest, between the breasts, or behind the breastbone.
- Discomfort or pain spreading to other areas of the upper body such as one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
These signs could come and go.
For stroke, know these symptoms:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding speech
- Sudden trouble seeing with one or both eyes
- Sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
- Sudden fainting or unconsciousness