Women can be their family’s best defense against heart disease

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the world. In the United States, more women than men die each year from cardiovascular disease. But in a recent survey, only 65 percent of white women and 34 percent of black and Hispanic women were aware that cardiovascular disease was the leading cause of death in women.

Because women make 90 percent of health decisions in a family, it is important for women to realize the importance of cardiovascular health in themselves and their families. Attention to a healthy, active lifestyle and treatment of established risk factors such as tobacco use, hypertension, diabetes and obesity will make a difference in the health of the family.

Cardiovascular disease is potentially preventable if you pay attention to the risk factors.

You need to be aware of your blood pressure, which should ideally be less than 120/80.

Waist size is an indicator of a high risk for cardiovascular disease. For most people, waist size should be less than 40 inches for men and 35 inches for women. (For Asian men and women, the numbers are a little smaller — 35 inches and 32 inches, respectively.)

A family history of early cardiovascular disease (55 years of age in men and 65 years of age in women) doubles your risk of cardiovascular disease.

Cholesterol and blood sugar are also important numbers to know in determining cardiovascular health. Your LDL or “bad cholesterol” should be less than 130, and your fasting blood sugar should be less than 100.

The health habits we learn as children will most likely shape our adult behavior. Cholesterol starts to be deposited in our arteries at 10 years of age but is reversible into our 20s. As parents and grandparents it is our responsibility to serve as examples for our children. To be healthy we need to walk 150 minutes/week, and attain an ideal body weight.

Obesity is a growing burden and has reached epidemic portions. Although it is important to pay attention to what you eat, how much you eat has a greater impact.

Learn to read food labels to be aware of what size is a portion, keep a food diary, and if you want to be successful in weight management you need to eat right seven days a week.

You can learn more about your risk factors for cardiovascular disease by taking an online heart-risk assessment. Or make an appointment with your family doctor for guidance and treatment.