4 Heart-Smart Moves for Women

A heart-healthy attitude can change your life.
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Dr. Mehmet Oz's expertise extends beyond the scalpel; he's also studied what helps hearts heal. As medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City, he has overseen and published research on subjects such as how using guided-imagery audiotapes positively affects the quality of life for patients with heart failure who are waiting for transplants. "Having heart surgery, or any medical procedure for that matter, can motivate you to change your life," says Dr. Oz. Here's his advice, whether you're recovering from surgery or trying to prevent heart disease before it starts.

1. Put yourself first. "Women often don't take care of themselves," says Dr. Oz. "They put other priorities first, such as taking care of their families. Then, when their health suffers because of that, their stress level may increase and their self-esteem may decrease." In a 2002 study, Lori Mosca, MD, director of preventive cardiology at New York Presbyterian Hospital, found that women rated poor self-esteem as the No. 1 barrier to making heart-healthy lifestyle changes, and stress as the second barrier. The study concluded that in order to reduce the risk of heart disease in women, the healthcare industry must target those two points when counseling patients. "It's a vicious circle," says Dr. Oz. "It's imperative that women do what's necessary to take care of their health first."

2. Use stress-reduction techniques. Studies show that stress has been linked to the spasms that can lead to heart attack, says Dr. Oz. "And though studies show that women and men experience the same stress levels at work, when men go home, their stress levels drop, but women's increase. So women need to learn to cope with it. Whatever helps you relax, whether it's meditation, yoga, massage, listening to soothing music -- make time to do it." Taking time to counter stress is particularly important in patients being treated for heart disease. Research is continuing on women using yoga and guided-imagery audiotapes to reduce complications and prevent death after open-heart surgery; another trial is showing an interesting trend toward fewer deaths and complications in heart patients who use prayer and meditation.

3. Change your diet. Wean yourself off high-glycemic "white foods" such as bread, rice, pasta, and sugar, says Dr. Oz, which can lead to diabetes, a particularly severe heart disease risk factor for women. The second taboo is fried foods, because studies show that oils oxidize into damaging free radicals at the high temperatures used for frying. Eat lots of colorful vegetables and fruits for their free radical-fighting antioxidants. "Healthy omega-3 fats found in oily fish or as a two-gram supplement are great for the heart," he says. "And drink lots of water to keep your system flushed, which may also reduce heart attacks." Women who drink five glasses of water a day are 41 percent less likely to die from a heart attack than those who drink two or fewer glasses, according to a study published in 2002 in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

4. Have sex. You already know that exercise reduces your risk of heart disease. The good news: Dr. Oz says sexual activity counts. "People are less likely to have a heart attack if they have an active sex life with their spouse." (If you're married and having sex with someone other than your spouse, though, that's stressful and thus might increase your risk, he warns.) Risk of death from coronary artery disease is about 50 percent lower among people with high orgasmic frequency (twice a week or more) than in people with low orgasmic frequency (less than monthly), concludes a study published in the British Medical Journal in 1997. "People who have more than 100 orgasms each year live longer," says Dr. Oz, "so having sex two times weekly is the magic number."

 

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, March 2004.

 

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