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Your Healthy Heart: A Woman’s Guide

Follow these 12 steps to preventing heart disease -- the number 1 threat to a woman's health.

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Healthy Heart Step 5: Whittle away your middle. Being overweight is a major risk factor for heart disease -- and where you store your fat plays a role. "Women who carry their weight around the middle, as opposed to the butt, hips, and thighs, are at highrisk for heart disease," says Marie Savard, MD, an internist in private practice in Philadelphia and author of How to Save Your Own Life. "The good news is that this may be the most dangerous fat to have, but it's the easiest fat to lose," Savard says.

How to lose that "menopot" of belly fat that can accumulate later in life and raise heart disease risk? Steer clear of devilish white carbohydrates. "When women approach menopause," says Goldberg, "they become more carb-intolerant and more sensitive to the effects of simple sugar and white carbohydrates. Decrease your intake of sugar and white-floured foods," Goldberg says. Instead of white rice, order brown rice with Chinese take-out. Ditch that Kaiser roll for whole wheat toast.

Healthy Heart Step 6: Say no to trans fats. Women who eat the most trans fats (or trans fatty acids) are 3 times more likely to develop heart disease than women who eat fewer trans fats, according to a study of nearly 33,000 women done by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. To lower heart disease risk, scale back on trans fats by avoiding fried foods and eating fewer packaged foods like cookies, crackers, and pastries. "Women need to look at good nutrients from all food groups, including good fats like canola and olive oils, flaxseed oil, and walnuts," Goldberg says.

Healthy Heart Step 7: Get more exercise. High cholesterol is a risk factor for both sexes, but women may be harder hit than men. Women with "good" cholesterol (high-density lipoprotein, or HDL) levels lower than 50 -- and triglycerides above 150 -- may be at higher risk of heart disease then men with similar numbers. "The magnitude of these risk factors is greater in women than men," says Goldberg. To compensate, she says, "Make your life more aerobic." Aerobic exercise helps boost your "good" cholesterol and lower the blood fats known as triglycerides. Bonus: Exercise also helps reduce blood pressure and keep weight your down.

Sangala agrees. "Aim for at least 30 minutes per day on most days of the week," she says. Kick it up a notch, to 60 to 90 minutes, if you're at higher-than-average risk of heart disease or need to lose weight. And don't make it any harder than it has to be. "You don't have to do very intense exercise that will make you feel weak and achy," she says. "A brisk walk is fine."

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