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10 heart health tips for women

1. Eat a healthy diet

Cardiology experts say women (and men) can prevent the onset of heart disease by consuming a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grain and lean protein and low in sodium and trans and saturated fat. Beans and oily fish such as salmon and trout can also reduce the risk of a heart attack.

2. Don't smoke

Cigarette smoking is one of the top causes of heart disease, as chemicals in tobacco narrow the arteries, ultimately leading to heart attacks. Quitting smoking significantly reduces that risk.

3. Exercise

Lack of physical activity is a major cause of heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends people get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week.

4. Cut down on stress

Ninety percent of stress-induced cardiomyopathy cases occur in women, mostly after menopause, said Ashley Simmons, medical director of the women's heart health center at Kansas University Hospital. Stress is also a leading risk factor for heart disease overall.

5. Get a heart health risk assessment

Women of any age can get a heart health risk assessment to determine their likelihood for heart disease and what they can do to prevent its onset. The assessments look at things like blood pressure, waist circumference, body mass index and nutrition and exercise. Locally, Lawrence Memorial Hospital recently began offering Take Heart heart assessments.

6. Monitor lab work

Get your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked regularly, as they are a common predictor of future heart problems. Women should pay extra close attention to blood sugar and triglyceride levels, as women who are diabetic or have high triglycerides are at a greater risk for heart disease than men with those same risk factors, said Christina Salazar, a cardiologist at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

7. Take advantage of cardiac rehabilitation after a heart attack or surgery

Cardiac rehabilitation can help women who have had a heart attack or surgery reduce the chances of recurrence. During these courses, patients exercise, learn about healthy eating, get emotional support and undergo medication counseling, among other activities. Women, however, tend to enroll in cardiac rehabilitation at a lower rate than men, Simmons said.

8. Recognize the symptoms

When women have heart attacks, they are more likely than men to present vague symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, upset stomach, and head, neck and jaw pain.

9. Be aware of the facts

Heart disease is the leading killer of women (and men) in America, and ultimately claims the life of 1 in 3 women (or roughly one a minute). Still, in a 2012 American Heart Association study, only 56 percent of women identified heart disease as the No. 1 cause of death among females.

10. Know your family history

Having relatives with a history of heart disease greatly increases your risk of developing it. If you have a family history of heart problems, tell your health care provider.

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