Today is Go Red for Women® day. What’s that all about?

It’s an awareness campaign sponsored by the American Heart Association that encourages women to monitor their health, eat well and exercise. Cardiovascular deaths in women hit about 500,000 per year. The campaign aims to dispel the myths about heart disease and women, and help women understand how to recognize risk and care for themselves. 

The campaign encourages women to:

  • Understand their risk for heart disease
  • Schedule an annual doctor’s visit
  • Get appropriate blood work or testing
  • Follow a healthy diet
  • Incorporate fitness into their lifestyle
  • Don’t smoke

Of course my coauthors and I wrote DASH Diet For Dummies® because we are all passionate about heart health. As women, we are also passionate about women’s health, and hope that our books help you better understand your own heart health and overall risk for heart disease.

I asked my coauthor, Dr. Sarah Samaan, a board certified cardiologist and a Physician Partner at the Baylor Heart Hospital in the Dallas Metroplex city of Plano, Texas. She cares for a wide range of patients, including those whose focus is prevention as well as people with advanced heart disease. She co-authored The DASH Diet for Dummies and is the author of Best Practices for a Healthy Heart: How to stop heart disease before or after it starts.

Here’s some of her best advice for you:

Q: What should women be asking their doctors when they go in for a well visit?

A: Women should know their blood pressure, lipid profile (including LDL,HDL, and triglycerides) and blood glucose, as well as their BMI. These simple numbers are key in identifying your cardiovascular risk, and in helping to formulate a plan for prevention.

Q: What do you recommend for an overweight women who is not participating in exercise? How can she start?

A: Exercise is critical to preventing  heart disease and other chronic illness. For older adults, simply walking 30 min 5 days per week will lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and dementia by 30%. Just put on your sneakers and walk out the door! Or if the weather is not cooperative, consider an exercise bike or treadmill.

Q: What dietary suggestions do you offer to women, that may differ from men?

A: For most women, it’s especially important to get plenty of calcium. Calcium helps strengthen our bones, but is also important for heart health. The body uses calcium from the diet much more efficiently that it does when taken in the form of supplements, and there is some concern that supplements could even pose harm. I especially like Greek yogurt. It’s a protein powerhouse and a great source of calcium as well. Fortified milk (including my favorite, soy milk) is another good source of calcium. So is canned salmon, since the little bones in the fish get softened and pulverized during the canning process.

I advocate a Mediterranean diet, with a good balance of healthy fats, healthy carbs, and lean protein. The DASH diet, designed to lower blood pressure, includes many elements of the Mediterranean diet, and both are adaptable to suit just about anyone’s dietary needs and restrictions.

Q: How might stress be handled?

A: Stress is not all bad. It is the stress that we cannot control that is so dangerous. That includes unhappy relationships at home and at work. A demanding spouse or a job in which you feel underappreciated or overworked can be sources of this unwanted stress. While we can’t always escape stress, nurturing healthy habits like regular exercise, meditative activities, and adequate sleep can really help to counteract the harmful effects.

Don’t waste any more time. Take care of yourself. See your doctor. Check your numbers. Eat right. Be heart happy.