By Jennifer Patiño –
If you’ve been working out to slim down and win the heart of some galán, then you’ve been doing it for the wrong reasons. If you are the kind of girl that needs a goal to hit the gym or the yoga mat, then working out to get yourself in shape for your own heart is the best of all reasons.
Don’t believe me? Let’s ask an expert.
On top of being an expert in cardiovascular health,
Dr.-Cristina-Rabadán-DiehlT.jpg, Ph.D., M.P.H. is also the deputy director of the Office of Global Health for the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) at the National Institutes of Health. As a spokesperson for The Heart Truth, a campaign to raise awareness for women about heart disease, she has to wake us up with some scary statistics. The first of which is that while many women think breast cancer is the biggest risk to women’s health “almost eight times more women die of heart disease than breast cancer.”
As you’re reading this article, you may be thinking to yourself that you’re too young to worry about heart disease or that it’s something that affects more men than women. According to Dr. Rabadán-Diehl, the notion that heart disease is a bigger problem for men is a myth that most likely arose because studies on heart disease were done primarily in men earlier. But for women, she assures us, the risk factors are the same. As for being too young, Dr. Rabadán-Diehl reports that 35 percent of U.S. women on the whole ages 20 and over are obese.
The prevalence of risk factors increases if you are a young Latina.
Current statistics focus on Mexican-American women, but the NHLBI is currently conducting an in depth study of heart disease risks of Latinos in the U.S. which focuses on the role of cultural adaptation and encompasses various nationalities. Still, the statistics for Mexican-American women are shocking.
According to Dr. Rabadán-Diehl among Mexican-American women ages 20 and older, 75 percent are overweight, 25 percent have hypertension, 45 percent have high cholesterol, and 13 percent have diabetes. Furthermore, among Hispanic women, 52 percent are physically inactive. All of these are factors that signal an increased risk of heart disease, she said.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that heart disease can be avoided. The Heart Truth campaign is in essence an empowerment campaign for women.
“We often put ourselves at the bottom of our priority list. We have to realize our health is very important and heart disease can be prevented,” says Dr. Rabadán-Diehl.
Her major recommendations for decreasing your risk of heart disease are a balanced diet and an increase in the level of activity. At minimum, she suggests getting off the bus stop earlier or parking your car further so that you walk more.
With regards to nutrition, Dr. Rabadán-Diehl realizes that the recession may be limiting access to fresh fruits and vegetables. She suggests frozen alternatives that are healthier than canned and encourages us to look at saturated fats and salt contents. Furthermore, she assures us that the idea that fast food restaurants are cheaper than a grocery store is a misconception. For heart healthy meals, she urges a decrease in the consumption of pre-prepared meals because they have a lot of preservatives and are high in fats.
Maybe you’re thinking that all of the above is great advice, but you just don’t have the time to take these steps. That is not uncommon. Dr. Rabadán-Diehl says that one-third of women still underestimate the threat of heart disease and cite barriers like “family demands, caregiving, not enough money, and lack of insurance.”
All things considered, NOT taking care of yourself and ending up sick will be worse for you and your family in the long run, she said. To this effect, Dr. Rabadán-Diehl points out that taking care of our health is “the way we can ensure that we can be there” for our loved ones.
If you still find that it’s difficult to motivate yourself to improve your health, perhaps you can use the caretaking, family oriented nature that’s often built into our Latina psyches to your heart healthy advantage. Raising awareness of heart disease can become a family event, including motivating one another to prepare healthier meals and exercise regularly.
For the little ones, Dr. Rabadán-Diehl says that it is important to “start prevention from childhood.” And if your old school relatives are reluctant to give up their culturally rich and fatty foods like chicharrones, don’t despair. Dr. Rabadán-Diehl suggests that you “don’t dismiss their heritage. Enrich their knowledge instead.” You can download Spanish language pamphlets about heart disease from the NHLBI website.
But don’t go overboard stressing out about your health either—stress is one of the contributing factors that increase your risks of heart disease. It is important to attempt to reduce your overall stress level, but if you can’t eliminate all stress factors, you can try to work on how you perceive and internalize those stresses. Dr. Rabadán-Diehl recommends finding ways and time to unwind. Why not take a relaxing (and hearth healthy) walk to relax?
But what if you or a loved one have already developed heart disease? Dr. Rabadán-Diehl emphasizes the importance of keeping in close communication with your healthcare physicians and maintaining the same health patterns prescribed for preventing heart disease. She also points out the importance of continuing to take medication given to control risk factors even if you start to feel better.
If side effects resulting from medication are difficult to deal with, she reminds us that it is important for you and your provider to discuss problems to find alternative health solutions.
As a last piece of wisdom, Dr. Rabadán-Diehl reminds us that “every woman must take her risk for heart disease very personally and very seriously.”
Empowering yourself and your loved ones to recognize the importance of cardiac health starts with becoming aware of your risk factors and how to eliminate them. It’s your job to make sure that you take advice about cardiac health to heart.
Jennifer Patiño is a writer based in Chicago.