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By: By Susan Kranz, M. S. Fitness and Rehabilitation Director
Women and Heart Disease

By Susan Kranz, M. S.
Fitness and Rehabilitation Director
The Fitness Institute and Pilates Studio Phone: (716) 639-0200

Heart Disease, as researched and documented by the Center for Disease Control, is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. Heart Disease can be diagnosed as anything from an arrhythmia (Irregular Heart Beat) to plaque build-up in the arteries to heart attacks. What most people don’t realize is that heart disease can be something even as remote as deep vein thrombosis. Any malady to do with the heart and the circulatory system can be classified as heart disease. The most violent of all heart disease is a heart attack. Heart attacks are also the most common of cardiovascular disease, two thirds of women who suffer a heart attack live disabled and fifty percent of those women whom have a had one heart attack, relapse. In the year 2006, heart disease accounted for 26% of deaths in women, That is almost 400,000 lives. The scariest part about this statistic is that out of all of those women, almost two thirds of this statistic were women who had never suffered or showed any signs or symptoms at all. These women were living at high risk and never knew it.

So what is high risk? Being at high risk means there are a least three prominent factors in your life that are in association of heart disease. The common factors include High Cholesterol, High Blood Pressure, High Stress, Cigarette Smoking, Overweight and Obesity, Poor diet, Physical Inactivity and Alcohol use. These are commonly mentioned because they are modifiable, we can eat right, start working out, lose weight and stop smoking. These factors can be eliminated through lifestyle changes. There are however, non-modifiable risk factors, which people tend not to think about. The factors
that people overlook include family history, Diabetes, being over the age of 55, having gone through menopause or ethnicity could put you at a greater risk. These non-modifiable risk factors are often overlooked. All of these factors are important, the more factors the higher the risk, and as these risk accumulate the risk of being diagnosed with heart disease increases dramatically.


What people don’t realize about risk factors is that they don’t grow linearly. The factors compile on top of each other exponentially. To quantify this statement, someone might have family history, worth 2 points, obesity, worth 5 points, and physical inactivity worth 5 points. So her risk factors would accumulate not to 12 but to 50! If this individual were to start exercising then her risk factors would go from 50 to 10. This is a dramatic example of why it’s so important to get your health under control before a major event. If this individual were to continue to work out and then start losing weight then the risk factor of obesity would also be eliminated so then the range would go down from 50 to 2. This is a prime reason why exercise is so important.

Having a physically active lifestyle is fundamental to prolonged good health.
Heart Disease is no longer and “old mans’” disease. The epidemiology of women with heart disease is increasing exponentially each year. Most women now have to maintain a job, take care of their household, raise children, keep a husband happy and find time for themselves. The over worked multitasking lifestyle of women is putting them into high stress situations which is contributing largely to heart disease. The alternative is just as bad. Women are very emotional creatures. When a weak heart is faced with a strong negative emotion it could cause cardiomyopathy. It has been scientifically proven that if a woman is unhappy or under extreme stress that it can actually escalate into heart failure. In this situation being physically active could possibly avoid this problem.

Exercise strengthens the heart; it releases endorphins to maintain a healthy, more cheerful demeanor and is also a stress reliever. So what does exercising and being physically active entail? The American College of Sports Medicine recommends exercising five days a week for an hour. Exercising would be anything that
raises the heart rate, the breathing rate and the energy expenditure over resting. This includes running, walking, swimming, biking, playing with your children, playing a sport and strength training. Often strength training is pictured an ominous pile of dumbbells, but that doesn’t have to be the case. It is very important for women to participate in strength training. The benefits are innumerable and the results do not include large bulky arms and legs. One must continue to use your muscles to their fullest potential or you will start to lose strength and power. Strength training can help you preserve your muscle mass as you age over time to prevent weakness and frailty. Strength training, also known as resistance training or weight training, can also help you maintain strong bones. As women we are at a predisposition to develop osteoporosis. With the addition of strength training to someone’s’ lifestyle they can slow down the progression osteoporosis by actually increasing bone density.


Strength training is also very important when it comes to controlling your weight. Though
cardiovascular work is extremely important with weight loss, it alone cannot help you obtain and maintain and ideal weight. At rest muscle mass consumes more energy than an equivalent amount of fatty tissue. With increased muscle mass, not increased muscle bulk, your body works as a more efficient machine, it burns calories faster. This increased speed of caloric burn can result in weight loss. The addition of strength training to a workout plan will result in toning and firming up troublesome
areas as your body loses its subcutaneous fat. The muscle mass is the density of the muscle increasing. When the mass increases the strength of the muscle increases. This can be done without making the muscle increase is bulky size. Strength training can also help reduce your risk of injury. Building muscle strength helps protect your joints from injury. It also contributes to better balance, which can help you maintain independence as you age. So many times you hear about people falling and getting seriously injured.
When participated in regular strength training you increase your balance, strength and flexibility from the various exercises performed. This reduces your chance of slipping and falling, plus, if you were to slip and fall you have a greater chance of regaining your balance and avoiding injury. Ideally a workout would consist of both strength training and cardiovascular training. Some days should be spent running or biking while others could include a yoga or zumba class or resistance training at the gym. The variety in your workout is what’s key to keeping you interested and on track. Maintaining a diverse exercise program will also help boost your stamina. As you get stronger, your
body won't fatigue as easily. You’ll notice, over time your body has more energy throughout an entire day of work, errands, children and laundry. You’ll find yourself being able to accomplish more, do more over a longer period of time and consequently sleep more soundly at night.

It is a scary reality that women must focus now more than ever on the demands of her lifestyle and how it can effect her health so strongly. Being aware of you health risks and controlling what you can through physical fitness is truly the key. It can add years to your life and life to your years.

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