Although cardiovascular disease is sometimes thought of as a man’s disease, almost as many women die each year of heart problems in the United States. In fact, heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing one in three deaths each year.
That equals approximately one woman every minute!1 High blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking are key risk factors for heart disease, and about half of all men and women in the U.S. have at least one of these three risk factors.2
The most common cause of heart disease is the narrowing or blockage of the coronary arteries, which are the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart itself. Technically known as coronary artery disease, this narrowing happens slowly over time. But there are two types of heart disease that affect more women than men. The first is coronary microvascular disease, which is a condition that affects the heart’s tiny arteries. Surprisingly, the second is “broken heart” syndrome. This is ia real condition that is triggered by extreme emotional stress which leads to severe heart muscle failure.
There are also certain factors that can play a bigger role in the development of heart disease in women. One of these is diabetes. Women with diabetes are more likely to develop heart disease than men with diabetes.3 Also, because diabetes can change the way people feel pain, a woman is at greater risk of having a silent, or symptom-free, heart attack. Menopause can also play a role. Low levels of estrogen after menopause pose a significant risk of compromising smaller blood vessels.4 In addition, experiencing either high blood pressure or preeclampsia during pregnancy can increase the mother’s long-term risk of cardiovascular disease later in life.5 That said, we are here to provide some helpful tips to support heart health, including how to achieve better blood flow.
Wait…Women’s Hearts Are Different than Men’s?
Did you know that women’s hearts are smaller than men’s? It’s true! A woman’s heart actually weighs two ounces less than a man’s.6 To make up for this, a women’s heart rate is generally faster. Men average at about 70 beats per minute (bpm) while women average about 78 bpm. This causes the female heart to work just a little harder over the course of her lifetime. Women also have narrower arteries and their heart valves are usually a bit more flexible and relaxed.
Heart-Healthy Tips for Women
So how can you support your heart health? Let’s take a look.
Schedule that annual checkup. First things first, it is important to get annual checkups from your medical provider to assess your heart-health risk. This includes becoming knowledgeable about key health numbers like your blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Know the classic heart attack symptoms. Heart attack symptoms for women can sometimes present differently than men. The most common heart attack symptom though, is the same for either gender—some type of chest pain, pressure, or discomfort that lasts more than a few minutes, or comes and goes. But women may also have other symptoms of a heart attack like back pain, shoulder pain, a feeling of fullness in the stomach, or nausea.
Get enough sleep. Most people are familiar with the consequences of sleep deprivation—heavy eyelids, short attention span, and excessive yawning. But there are more consequences of poor sleep than people realize, particularly for increasing your risk of heart disease.7 Poor sleep duration or poor sleep quality has also been linked to high blood pressure.8 People who sleep six hours or less per night may have steeper increases in blood pressure. Why, you may ask? Well, it’s thought that sleep helps your body control the hormones needed to regulate stress and metabolism. Over time, a lack of sleep could potentially cause swings in these hormones, leading to elevated blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease.
Tame stress. Chronic stress is another area of concern for women. It can lead to factors that increase the risk of heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, inactivity, and overeating. To help cope with ongoing stress, try talking to someone you trust, such as a friend, family member, or doctor. It also may help to practice meditation for at least 10 minutes a day and engage in a bit of deep breathing when life seems overwhelming.
Practice a heart-healthy diet. Changing your eating habits can be tough, but it can definitely improve your heart health. One quick tip is to watch your portion size. How much you eat is just as important as what you eat. Portions served in restaurants are often more than what anyone needs. Try using a small plate or bowl to help control your portions. Eat larger amounts of low-calorie, nutrient-dense foods like fruits and veggies—and eat smaller amounts of food high in calories, sugar, and sodium. Eating oily fish like salmon, sardines, and tuna can also help foster better cardiovascular health by improving blood circulation.9
It helps to know proper serving sizes, too. For example, one serving of pasta is about one-third to one-half cup, or about the size of a hockey puck. And a serving of fish or meat should be about the size of a deck of cards. Besides monitoring portion sizes, try to limit the amount of unhealthy fat you consume. Limiting this is important in further reducing your blood cholesterol and lowering your risk of coronary artery disease. High blood cholesterol can contribute to a buildup of plaque in your arteries—and that can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke.
Lastly, limit your salt intake. Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which is an important risk factor for heart disease. The American Heart Association recommends that healthy adults consume no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day (about a teaspoon of salt).
Improve blood flow. The circulation of your blood is one of the most important functions of the body and plays a major role in your overall health. Not surprisingly, the main component of this function involves the body’s most significant organ—the heart. Many people may underestimate the importance of proper circulation, making lifestyle choices like smoking or not exercising that significantly impede this function. Having good circulation is important because it carries blood and oxygen throughout the body, allowing your lungs, heart, and muscles to function properly and efficiently.
How can you improve your circulation? One way is to get some type of cardio in every day, if only for 20 to 30 minutes. This can be as simple as briskly walking around the block after dinner. Yoga is another option and it’s a low-impact workout that is easy to modify for beginners. As you bend, stretch, and twist, the movements used in yoga can help compress and decompress your veins, which may improve circulation.
And don’t forget to stay hydrated! Drinking plenty of water helps things flow efficiently through the body and also flushes out toxins. Aim to drink half your body weight in ounces each day.
Try a supplement. Have you heard of aged garlic extract (AGE)? It’s one of the most heavily researched herbal medicines and is among the most commonly used supplements in people with heart disease. It’s especially helpful for those looking to avoid the use of statin drugs. In numerous clinical trials, AGE has consistently provided favorable effects on heart health.10 What’s more, Kyolic AGE is produced through a proprietary aging process that eliminates garlic odor and harsh side effects. A heart-healthy dose is 1,200 mg daily.
We also encourage you to take a look at this study centering on AGE and how it can support heart health, this study, which confirms the blood pressure and gut health benefits of AGE, and this study, which shows that taking a combination of AGE and CoQ10 can also help to support heart health and lessen plaque formation.
Taking these small steps now can improve your heart health, blood pressure, and circulation. It might even help prevent a cardiovascular event in the future.
- The facts about women and heart disease. American Heart Association. n.d. https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/facts
- Women and heart disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2020; https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/women.htm
- Diabetes and heart disease in women. Johns Hopkins Medicine. n.d. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/diabetes-and-heart-disease-in-women#:~:text=Cardiovascular%20Risk%20Can%20Occur%20Earlier,disease%20than%20people%20without%20diabetes.
- Khoudary S, Aggarwal B, Beckie T, et al. Menopause transition and cardiovascular disease risk: implications for timing of early prevention: a scientific statement from the American heart association. AHA Journals. 2020; 142:e506-e532.
- High blood pressure and pregnancy: know the facts. Mayo Clinic. 2020; https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/pregnancy-week-by-week/in-depth/pregnancy/art-20046098
- Magovern, C. 10 things you may not know about your heart. ABC News. 2012; https://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/02/14/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-your-heart
- A look into a women’s heart. UnityPoint Health. 2015; https://www.unitypoint.org/livewell/article.aspx?id=98fdd7cf-8064-4a12-ae94-51ce49158a4d#:~:text=Women’s%20hearts%20are%202%2F3,generally%20faster%20than%20a%20man’s.
- Nagai M, Hoshide S, Kario K. Sleep duration as a risk factor for cardiovascular disease – a review of the recent literature. Cardiology Reviews. 2010; 6(1):54-61.
- Soumi P, Chopra S, Jacob J. A fish a day keeps the cardiologist away! – a review of the effect of omega-3 fatty acids in the cardiovascular system. Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2013; 17(3):422-429.
- Wlosinska M, Linstedt S, Nilsson A, et al. The effect of aged garlic extract on the atherosclerotic process – a randomized double-blind placebo controlled trial. BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies. 2020; 20:132.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice.