A Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine study has shown that adults in their 30s and 40s may reduce their risk for developing cardiovascular disease when they forego unhealthy habits in favor of healthier ones.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 600,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year.
Heart disease is the largest killer of women, more so than breast cancer, and Black women in particular suffer rates of heart disease twice as high than white women. Factors such as weight and elevated levels of cholesterol and hypertension so contribute to this disparity, as well as lack of education.
“This finding is important because it helps to debunk two myths held by some health care professionals. The first is that it’s nearly impossible to change patients’ behaviors. Yet, we found that 25 percent of adults made healthy lifestyle changes on their own,” Dr. Bonnie Spring, the lead study researcher and a professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern, said in a statement. “The second myth is that the damage has already been done — adulthood is too late for healthy lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of developing coronary artery disease. Clearly, that’s incorrect. Adulthood is not too late for healthy behavior changes to help the heart.”
The findings of the study are published in the journal Circulation.
Five thousand adults participated in the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults study 20 years beforehand, when they were between the ages of 18 and 30. The participants, who are now between the ages of 38 and 50, were given lifestyle and cardiac assessments.
At the beginning of the CARDIA study, less than 10 percent lived a healthy lifestyle (normal weight, regular exercise, diet low in alcohol, and nonsmoker). But two decades later, that number increased to 25 percent of participants who adopted at least one of the healthy lifestyle habits.
Those who drop healthy habits also face an increased risk of heart disease. Forty percent of the participants dropped a healthy habit and had an increased risk such as “detectable coronary artery calcification” according to Spring.
The first step for Black women to reduce their risk, is to know the numbers – cholesterol levels, blood pressure, weight, Body Mass Index (BMI), and sugar levels. These are factors that determine risk level for heart attack or stroke and conditions that Black women are often negatively affected by.
Engage in at least 30 minutes of a moderate-intensity activity such as brisk walking or another activity such as dancing or swimming at least five days a week.
Eat well-balanced meals low in fat and cholesterol, half your plate should be fruits and vegetables.
Don’t smoke or quit smoking. Again, it never too late to start trying.
Women do experience symptoms of heart attack differently from men. While heart attacks are shown in the media as dramatic striking pains in the chest or shoulders, women tend to experience these less common signs:
- Atypical chest pain (pain that is sharp and temporary)
- Stomach, back, or arm pain
- Nausea or dizziness (without chest pain)
- Shortness of breath and difficulty breathing (without chest pain)
- Unexplained anxiety, weakness or fatigue
- Palpitations, cold sweat or paleness
S.C Rhyne is an author and blogger living in New York City. You can follow her at @ReporterandGirl and check out her blog at http://TheReporterandTheGirl.com