From how long to sleep to how much wine to drink, expert reveals ten ways to slash your risk of having a heart attack
HEART disease is often seen as a man’s illness – but it kills twice as many women in the UK as breast cancer.
And in the month after a heart attack, women are twice as likely as men to die from it in England and Wales.
Dr Hazel Wallace believes more must be done to raise awareness of the symptoms in women if we are to boost their chances of survival.
The NHS doctor, nutritionist and founder of educational platform The Food Medic says the most common symptom experienced in both sexes is chest pain — but women are more likely to ignore it and wait to get help.
Dr Wallace told Sun on Sunday Health: “A recent review found women are more likely to get pain between the shoulder blades, nausea or vomiting, and shortness of breath.
“They have lower odds of presenting with chest pain and sweating.
“But there is considerable overlap in symptoms that men and women experience and in the majority of cases — regardless of gender — chest pain is the most common complaint.
“Heart disease can affect any person at any stage of life but when it comes to diagnosis or treatment, the odds are stacked against women.
“They go to hospital later than men do because there is a lack of awareness with symptoms and they think they’re having a panic attack.
“They wait at home until symptoms worsen, attempt to self-medicate and deal with work or family responsibilities first.
“Some-times when a woman is having a heart attack she may feel nauseous, she may think it is indigestion or believe it is anxiety or heart palpitations. Women are more likely than men to receive the wrong initial diagnosis and will receive less timely treatment
“Sadly this means women are also more likely to die.”
One study carried out over ten years found women were twice as likely to die in the month after a heart attack.
Dr Wallace, said: “That is pretty shocking as a lot of people believe heart disease is a man’s illness. It’s actually the single biggest killer of women worldwide. If you have symptoms you are not sure about, it is always worth calling NHS 111.”
Each year more than 30,000 women are admitted to hospital after a heart attack and more than 800,000 live with coronary heart disease.
The risk increases after the menopause when the heart-protective hormone oestrogen drops.
Dr Wallace says: “The jury is still out as to whether HRT can help protect the heart. The research has been mixed.
“When it comes to heart health, our sex, our age and genetics are important and those are things we can’t change.”
But the good news is there are many things we can do to reduce the risk.
Dr Wallace adds: “Research suggests around 90 per cent of heart attacks are caused by things you can change. It is very empowering to know you can change things and to see how much power you have over your own health.”
Dr Wallace shares her top ten rules for a healthy heart for both men and women.
Limit processed foods
Eat as many foods containing healthy fats – olive oil, rapeseed oil, avocado, oily fish – as you like but cut down on foods such as chips and pizza with high saturated fat.
Red meat is relatively high in it too, so limit to one meal a day. Try meat-free days.
Remember strength training
For heart health, you need cardio exercise – around 150 minutes a week, where you sweat. But muscle-strengthening is also vital.
Muscles act like sponges for glucose, so absorb it, creating a vital healthy glucose metabolism.
Lift weights, climb stairs, carry bags of heavy shopping or do some gardening on at least two days a week.
Stress can raise blood pressure which puts you at risk and can lead to having too much sugar or alcohol.
Find a way to manage it – go to the gym, take a walk or meditate.
Before bed, write down what’s on your mind to offload it.
Brush your teeth
Some studies show that if you have gum disease, you’re at greater risk of heart disease than someone with healthy gums.
Oral health and heart disease are connected by the spread of bacteria and germs from your mouth to parts of your body through the blood stream.
They are proven to lower “bad” cholesterol which can cause fatty acids in your arteries.
Eat a 30g handful of nuts every day. Too many risks putting on weight. Choose non-salted or roasted.
One type of diet that always comes up trumps for the heart is the Mediterranean style – or The Dash Diet which is very similar.
Both involve plenty of fruits, veg and plant-based foods.
Be mindful of salt and sugar intake and include fibre-rich wholegrains such as oats, beans and pulses which are good for lowering cholesterol.
Dairy is safe
Dairy contains saturated fat and typically this is the type of fat we associate with poor outcomes for heart health.
But studies have shown that dairy foods, despite their high saturated fat content, do not appear to be harmful to cardiovascular health and may actually reduce the risk.
Soy-based foods (such as tofu, soya mince, edamame beans, soya-based milks/yoghurts) have the potential to lower blood cholesterol levels by 3 to 4 per cent – and therefore reduce the risk of heart disease.
Go easy on the red wine
People often ask if a glass of red wine is good for the heart.
Wine is arguably better than other alcohol as it is made of grapes which contain polyphenols and antioxidant properties which are great for the heart.
Drinking alcohol in moderation is fine but stick within the recommended guidelines of 14 units a week for women and men.
Don’t sleep too long
Lack of sleep can increase blood pressure and inflammation in the body, which is bad for the heart.
But too much is linked to other unhealthy behaviours – you may not be active enough.
Aim for six to ten hours of quality sleep a night.
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