by Anna Marie Trotman
February is American Heart Month which encourages Americans to focus on their heart health and get their families, friends and communities involved. But this year with the focus being on the pandemic and vaccines, heart health seems to have taken a back seat. So, we want to bring “Go Red for Women’s” lifesaving message to the forefront to raise awareness and encourage action. This includes knowing your numbers, family history, heart health during pregnancy and making healthy behavior and lifestyle changes.
In the early 80’s a very good friend of mine collapsed while playing tennis. Little did she know that she was having a heart attack, and how could she? She was young, active and ate a healthy diet. The missing piece was she was unaware of her numbers. She had hypertension and high cholesterol. Since she thought she was healthy her visits to her doctor were few and far between.
Start by Knowing Your Numbers
You can’t manage what you don’t measure, which is why knowing your risk is critical to preventing cardiovascular disease. And knowing your risk starts with knowing your numbers.
Talk to your healthcare provider to learn about your blood pressure, total cholesterol, blood sugar and BMI (Body Mass Index). If you haven’t had your annual Well Woman visit, make your appointment today (302-658-2229) and have your blood work done (no excuse, LabCorp is right down the hall). Then discuss with one of our health care providers whether you should seek further care.
Heart Health During Pregnancy
How can you preserve your heart health when you are expecting? Hint: it starts before pregnancy.
The healthier you are before you become pregnant, the higher the likelihood of a smooth, healthy pregnancy. It’s important to hydrate with water and avoid unhealthy options like sugar-filled beverages, artificial sweeteners and caffeine, which can further increase pressure.
Over the course of a pregnancy, it’s natural for women to become less active, but for most heart patients, maintaining some level of activity through simply walking or yoga can help keep your heart strong.
For women who suffered complications during their pregnancy, such as gestational diabetes, pre-term delivery or low birth weight, the risk of having some sort of heart or vascular issue is increased in the years after that pregnancy, and may increase the risk of complications with subsequent pregnancies.
Above all, regardless of the heart or other complications you faced during your pregnancy, it’s important to evaluate your lifestyle in the weeks and months afterward and determine where improvements can be made – especially if you plan on having more children. Check in at your six week postpartum visit to see how you can make improvements.
The key to a healthy pregnancy is regular prenatal care, but there are a few ways to keep your heart in shape during this exciting time. This also goes for women throughout their life cycle.
Diet and exercise still remain the most important factors in taking control of your heart health. Most women need to increase their calorie intake during pregnancy, but ideally this should be done in a nutritious way. As we age we may want to decrease our calorie intake and up our exercise regime.
Look for foods that are high in fiber, omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins. Nuts, berries, oatmeal and beans are all good options. One type of diet to consider is Mediterranean, which includes many high-fiber nuts and whole grains. Studies show that people who eat a healthy Mediterranean diet tend to live long, healthy lives.
In general, women should avoid foods high in sugar and fat because it can have negative short and long-term effects. Limit salty foods, which can increase blood pressure, and caffeine, which can trigger irregular heartbeats. Some foods that are normally considered heart-healthy, like sprouts or store-made salads should be avoided because they pose risks to the pregnancy. Looking long-term, Australian researchers at the University of Adelaide found that children whose mothers ate junk food during pregnancy were more likely to crave a high-fat, high-sugar diet.
Exercising during pregnancy can be very beneficial, according to research from the American Pregnancy Association. It can lower blood pressure and in some cases improve sleep, increase energy and lessen pregnancy-related problems. Low-impact, moderate-intensity activities like walking, swimming and yoga are the best options.
When exercising, make sure to take frequent breaks and drink extra fluids. Don’t push yourself if you get short of breath or feel uncomfortable. It’s a good idea to discuss your exercise program with one of our health care providers before you start one.
Keep this in Mind
Mental health is also a part of your heart health; mental health includes your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how you think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress and relate to others.
Strategies for keeping mentally and physically fit are diet, food and mood, don’t get hangry, meditation, taking a mental health day and learning how important it is to simply take a deep breath and relax.
Well Women checkups should be done annually, not only when you are due for a PAP. If you are overdue don’t hesitate to call, we are doing everything at The Birth Center to keep you safe and we want to make sure we are keeping you healthy.