Okay, ladies, listen up! While gender equality is the end game, when it comes to heart health and the development of disease, women and men are not created equal. New research in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Cardiology on gender differences in the development of hypertension (high blood pressure) adds to the mountain of literature building over the last twenty years that shows that there are differences in how men and women develop heart disease.
Heart health and high blood pressure
High blood pressure is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease. One in five women dies as a result of high blood pressure. In the JAMA Cardiology study, the authors followed over 30,000 people between the ages of 5 and 98 for more than forty years. A sharp increase in blood pressure measurements for women (beginning in their twenties) was noticed by the research team. This increase kept going as the women aged. Women’s blood pressure rose higher and faster than the men. These findings are similar to other studies, as documented in an expert analysis by the American College of Cardiology (ACC).
According to ACC’s analysis, women find themselves at risk for rising blood pressure due to hormone levels and other body changes from such conditions as polycystic ovarian syndrome and infertility, to pregnancy and gestational diabetes (diabetes developed during pregnancy). In later years, the decline of estrogen levels from menopause increases the risk for hypertension.
Given hypertension’s reputation as the “silent killer” —the lack of visible or recognizable symptoms can leave it undiagnosed for years—keeping blood pressure within normal limits is an essential health prevention strategy. But how do you do that?
Here are 5 ways to manage blood pressure and promote heart health:
1. Know your numbers
Routine blood pressure screening can help identify rising blood pressure levels. In addition to the primary care provider, many dentists, eye doctors, and other healthcare providers begin each visit with a blood pressure check. Pharmacies offer tools for blood pressure monitoring, as well as other community programs and some churches. Smart phones and watches can capture and store logs of blood pressure readings.
2. Find your favorite way to move and do it every day
Running, jogging, speed-walking, biking, swimming, dancing, etc. are all excellent ways to get your heart pumping, making it stronger and better able to move blood throughout the body. Women who are physically active can lower their blood pressure and cut their heart disease risk in half.
3. Pick the right fuel for your body
Just like higher octane, or premium gas, can make your car run more effectively, your body needs a steady intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, lean meats, nuts and beans. Foods that are high in unhealthy fats, or high in salt or added sugars should be limited. Eating patterns such as the Mediterranean or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diets, ranked #1 and #2 respectively by US News and World Report for overall health, have been proven to have positive impacts.
Whether you choose to follow a specific diet pattern or not, make sure that most of your meals and snacks are made up of heart-healthy foods.
4. Quit smoking today—and every day—and drink alcohol occasionally
While a direct relationship between smoking and high blood pressure has not been shown, women who smoke are at increased risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some cancers. Women who already have hypertension and who smoke are at even greater risk. Yet, the stress of quitting (and the often-accompanied weight gain) can negatively impact blood pressure. Visit Smokefree.gov to find resources, how to quit guides, text message support, apps, and more.
Keep intake of beer, wine, and other alcoholic drinks to 1-2 a day or less. People who drink alcohol excessively—over two drinks per day—have a one and a half to two times increase in the frequency of high blood pressure.
5. Keep stress under wraps
Juggling work, family, volunteer activities, exercise, meal planning, etc. is a lot for anyone. Women are more likely than men to run the household and take on the infamous “third shift” of planning, problem-solving, cleaning, and cooking ahead, after the other family members go to bed. The physical and mental toll this takes is significant. When you are stressed, your body releases hormones that make it harder for your body to pump blood. Anything that makes your body work more than it needs to, increases your risk for heart disease.
Find activities that promote relaxation. These can include yoga, massage, meditation, or engaging in fitness and recreation activities. Make sure you find 10 minutes a day to sit still and do nothing and schedule yourself an hour of “me” time at least once or twice a week.
So, where to begin?
Changing daily habits is no small feat. Pick one thing you can do differently to lower your risk of high blood pressure. Schedule regular check-ups with a health care provider and always talk with him/her before adopting new diet or exercise patterns. Consider consulting a dietitian and personal trainer for extra nutrition and exercise support. Most importantly, find a friend who can join you on your heart health journey. Having a walking buddy or someone to prepare new heart-healthy recipes with can make all the difference. You are not alone in improving your heart health!For more information, follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter @Theralogix! Don’t miss an article! Sign up for our newsletter below and we’ll let you know when our next article comes out.