Did you know that cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women? I had absolutely no idea. I’ve never seen a woman have a heart attack in a movie. I was never taught about heart disease in health class. I’ve never really even thought about my heart health as a twenty-something woman. So, I was floored to learn that cardiovascular disease claims more lives of women each year than all forms of cancer combined.
I consider myself to be an advocate for women’s health in all forms, so when my friend and photographer Liz reached out about helping the American Heart Association spread the word about women’s heart health it was an easy yes. I’ve never been personally touched by heart disease, but learning that it is such a massive issue in women’s health really got me fired up about it, especially when there are things we can do to help prevent it.
There are a LOT of facts when it comes to cardiovascular disease (the AHA is great resource if you’re interested in really digging in), so I’ll just share the ones that really stuck out to me:
- Cardiovascular disease (CVD) kills more women than all forms of cancer, accidents, and diabetes combined.
- Women in their 30s and 40s are more than twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease than from breast cancer.
- Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of maternal death and Black women have a 3.4 times higher risk of dying from CVD.
- Hispanic and Black women are at an increased risk for CVD – Hispanic women in their 20s are 8 times more likely to die from CVD and Black women in their 20s are 10 times more likely to die from CVD.
I am shocked. I could go on with these facts, but I know they’re scary and morbid and maybe some of you already know what a danger CVD is to women. So, what can we do? With all this terrifying information, what can we do to help ourselves, our friends, and our neighbors?
The first thing the AHA recommends is to Know Your Numbers – total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar, and body mass index. These numbers are key for understanding your risk for CVD. I, frankly, couldn’t tell you a single one of these so I definitely plan on making a point to ask the next time I’m at the doctor, which coincidentally is next week. They also recommend being aware of your family history of heart disease!
If you’re not already, the AHA also recommends exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and keeping your blood pressure low. I know it can be tough with busy schedules, especially in the winter, to get outside and get your body moving or reach for some veggies when all we want is comfort food, but making small changes to your lifestyle like this can reduce your risk by up to 80%, which is such a huge difference! I think it’s easy to get caught up in exercising and eating right for weight-loss reasons and we forget how important this stuff is for our overall health. Definitely throwing some spinach in my dinner tonight!
Another way we can help ourselves and other women we love is to spread the word and get involved! Before I learned about this campaign, I honestly don’t think I thought twice about my heart health. But after spending some time with the facts, I definitely plan on learning more about where I stand in terms of heart health. I’ve always ignored stats on my chart like cholesterol and even blood pressure, but now I actually want to take the time to ask questions and learn what my numbers really mean. I also feel really lucky that I have a way of connecting with so many women and spreading the word about CVD! These types of campaigns are amazing because if it helps even one person, it’s all completely worth it.
The last thing I’ll mention is that studies about cardiovascular disease in women are grossly underfunded and a lot of general heart disease studies under-enroll women in them, which ultimately limits our understanding of CVD in women. Plus, less than 25% of STEM jobs are held by women so women’s insights and perspectives are often missing from these studies. The more we can support studies that specialize in understanding CVD in women and the more we can support female scientists, physicians, and researchers the better off we all are!
With all that said, I hope that you’ll join me in wearing red on Friday, February 7th to help spread awareness of cardiovascular disease and maybe even take some steps yourself at learning more about your heart and your body. I’ll be right there with you!