Monday, 30 November -0001

Keep in good heart

Women are three times more likely to die from heart disease than breast cancer, new statistics reveal. Angela Epstein reports on how to protect yourself...

Written by Angel Epstein
Many women still think of coronary heart disease as a male complaint. Yet it is more prevalent among women than many health problems considered 'female' conditions. But as comedian Victoria Wood says in the Angina Monologues, 'It's not a competition'.

Heart disease is now a serious issue for women, particularly in the years following the menopause. Coronary heart disease is the biggest 'lady killer' in the UK, which has one of the worst heart-death rates in the world, according to the British Heart Foundation. Not surprising if the statistics are anything to go by. Only about one in four women in England does enough physical activity to protect her heart. And about six in every 10 women in England are overweight or obese.

Coronary heart disease is caused by atherosclerosis, when the arteries become narrowed or constricted by fatty material called atheroma within their walls. But the signs of heart disease often only appear when the condition is significantly advanced. 'The main indication of heart disease is angina, which happens when the narrowed arteries can't deliver oxygen to the heart. The sign of this is pain in your chest during exercise, which can spread to your arms, jaw, back or abdomen,' explains Dr Mike Knapton, assistant medical director for the British Heart Foundation.

If a piece of the atheroma in your arteries breaks away it can cause a blood clot to form. If this blocks the coronary artery and cuts off the supply of oxygenrich blood to your heart muscle, this can lead to a heart attack. So what can you do to protect your heart?

'Any woman over the age of 40 should consider having an NHS health check – particularly around the time of the menopause. This is carried out by a GP or practice nurse and assesses the risk of medical conditions such as stroke, diabetes and heart disease,' says Dr Knapton. 'Your doctor can also carry out a cardiovascular health-risk assessment based on health and lifestyle factors such as your weight.'

On a daily basis it's vital to keep your weight down because of the strain this can put on the heart. Shape matters too. Like many of us in the 40 to 60 age group, you may be apple shaped, with unwanted pounds pooling around your stomach. But this puts you at higher risk of heart disease than being pear shaped, where excess weight is concentrated on the hips. Aim for a waistline of less than 80cm (31.5 inches).

'Exercise is vital for heart health. Divide your day into work and leisure time and ask yourself how much of that is spent sitting down. Then if you can't get round to specific exercise, try and build physical activity into your routine such as walking to work or doing a physically active hobby such as gardening,' explains Dr Knapton.

Health-02-590Cornish mackerel: rich in omega 3 oils

Aerobic exercise, involving repetitive, rhythmic movement such as swimming and walking, is particularly important. A recent study by Harvard Medical School found that women who had at least one hour per week of regular walking exercise had about half the coronary heart disease rates of women who didn't walk regularly.

A balanced diet, low in salt, with little saturated fat and sugar, is vital for a healthy heart too. Too much saturated fat can raise cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease. But not all fats are bad: omega 3 fats, usually in oily fish, are polyunsaturated, and can help protect heart health. Try to have at least one portion of oily fish a week, such as fresh tuna, fresh or tinned salmon, sardines, pilchards or mackerel.

We know the importance of eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day, but we should ensure we eat a broad range. Also, unsweetened fruit juice, pulses and beans count as a portion, but only as one of your five a day, regardless of how much you consume. 'Many people also forget portion size,' adds Dr Knapton. 'A lot of weight problems stem from over-eating.'

Smoking is an obvious health hazard and it's particularly important that women stub it out. US research shows that the increased risk of heart disease linked to smoking is 25 per cent higher for women than for men.

However, looking after your heart doesn't mean a life of austerity. In fact, moderate drinking – one or two units a day – may offer some protection from coronary heart disease, especially for women who have been through the menopause. Of course, if you're a teetotaller, there are other, healthier ways to protect the heart.

It's vital to know your family history, too. If your father, mother, brother or sister developed heart disease at a young age (under 65 for women, and under 55 for men), you may be at increased risk.

'It doesn't mean that it's inevitable you will suffer too, but it simply raises the risk. So to be on the safe side, take measures to improve heart health. It can't hurt and it can only help you stay healthy.'

Love your heart

1 Replace saturated fats with small amounts of polyunsaturated fats and monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil.

2 Know your family history. Women whose mothers have suffered strokes are at a far higher risk of having a heart attack themselves.

3 Try to fit in physical activity whenever you can. Use the stairs instead of the escalators or lifts. Walk to the local shop rather than taking the car, and do some stretches when watching TV. Every little counts.

4 Have regular dental checks – periodontal disease has been associated with a high risk of heart disease.

5 Have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked – both of which can contribute to increased risk of heart disease.

6 Stop smoking. You're twice as likely to have a heart attack if you smoke. 7 Do not rely on hormone replacement therapy (HRT). Doctors used to think that using HRT for menopausal symptoms also protected women against heart disease. But research now suggests this isn't true.

8 Increase your fibre intake. New research from Sweden found that women who did this had a 25 per cent lower risk of suffering from cardiovascular disease.

9 Have your glucose levels checked regularly. High readings place you at a greater risk of heart disease.

10 Eat dark chocolate a couple of times a week (but no more). Studies have found that older women who do this could be lowering their risk of heart failure due to protective compounds, called flavonoids, in the chocolate.

Forgot your password?
Click to read our digital edition

Boarders Dormitory Master-Mistress
We are looking to appoint a Dormitory Mistress/Master for 5 nights per week, weekday evenings and nights only, term time. (35 weeks). [...]


Housekeeper to Headmaster
We have an opportunity for an experienced live-out housekeeper. You will provide a cleaning and hospitality service for the Headmaster and his guests and help to ensure the household runs efficiently. [...]


Full Time Housekeeper, Nanny
We are looking for a full time, live-out housekeeper/nanny. We are a relaxed young couple living in a large country house, and will have one newborn baby. [...]


Experienced Carer, Companion, Housekeeper needed
Our elderly mother needs a live in carer/companion on a part time basis. Must be warm hearted, calm & compassionate, with a good sense of humour. [...]


Cook, Housekeeper wanted
Good cooking skills required to cater for light meals for the Principal and a small staff, as well as occasional lunch/dinner parties. [...]




What the stars have in store for you this week.2017

Capricorn Aquarius Pisces Aries Taurus Gemini Cancer Leo Virgo Libra Scorpio Sagittarius

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter