When I was a kid, vacations by car were the norm. We would load up in our Town and Country wagon, Dad would point the car due south and away we would go.
Before getting on the road, we gathered enough food and drinks to get us through the first 600 miles of our trip. Back then, there weren’t video games or cell phones to keep us occupied. All we had was “us” — two parents and three crazy kids making our way down the highway.
It didn’t take long for Mom to learn that she needed a few essentials in the car to keep everyone happy: a water bottle, snacks and a map (no GPS back then). Like all good moms, my mother knew to take care of your needs now and prepare for tomorrow.
Well, heart health is just like that – something we often take for granted, but expect to be there when we need it. Men and women alike aren’t very good at preparing for their futures in this regard. Women, however, have suffered from disadvantage for years. They haven’t really understood their risk of heart disease.
Despite wonderful national campaigns focusing on heart disease, women still underestimate their risk and don’t understand the few things they need to do to protect themselves. I call them “The Essentials,” just like my mom’s trusty travel basket!
What Are Heart Health Essentials?
We’re all very busy today, but there are some essential things you can do to keep your heart healthy. When you’re seeing your healthcare provider, you must take advantage of every moment you have and walk away with some basic facts:
Know your numbers — Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. (Normal BP: less than 120/80, Optimal LDL is less than 100 mg/dl, unless you have multiple risk factors for heart disease.)
Own your lifestyle — Stop smoking, lose weight, exercise and eat a diet of fiber-rich whole grains, fish (at least 2 times a week), nuts, legumes and low-fat options.
Realize your risk — We think it won’t happen to us, but heart disease kills 1 in 3 women. Have a well-woman cardiovascular risk assessment and know your issues BEFORE something happens.
Educate your family — Make healthy food choices for yourself and for your family. Teach your kids the importance of staying active.
You Can Help Your Heart
I recently spoke to the Women’s Ministry of Triumph Baptist Church in North Philadelphia about “Heart Disease: What African American Women Need to Know.” The good news I shared with them is that most people can greatly reduce their chances of developing heart disease by eliminating or reducing the causes — or “risk factors” — of the disease.
We’ve made great progress in the fight against heart disease, but we still have a long way to go. Please join me in this fight by getting educated about your heart health.