Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation physician-scientist Eliza Chakravarty, M.D.

As part of National Women’s Health Week (May 9-15th), experts at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation got to the heart of the matter: cardiovascular disease.
It’s the leading cause of death for women in the Sooner state. But prevention isn’t out of reach, and small changes can add up to longer, healthier life.
1. Food for thought
“Your gift to your heart is a moderate diet of vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins. It’s the tried-and-true Mediterranean diet,” said OMRF Vice President of Research Rodger McEver, M.D., a cardiovascular biologist.
The fare results in lower cholesterol, blood pressure and blood glucose levels. Each is a risk factor for heart disease when not kept in check.
2. Keep moving
A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study published in 2020 found more than 30% of Oklahoma women are physically inactive.
“A sedentary lifestyle leads to obesity, a risk factor for heart disease,” said McEver. But, he added, you don’t have to become a marathoner to turn things around.
“Start with walking or a low-impact exercise like yoga. When you see how it improves how you feel, making it a priority will be easier.”
3. Count sheep
“Studies have shown that women are more likely than men to experience sleep problems. Catching Z’s has an outsized impact on your heart,” said OMRF physician-scientist Eliza Chakravarty, M.D.
According to the American Heart Association, “short sleep” — defined as less than six hours per night — is a risk factor for high blood pressure and stress. It also makes weight loss more difficult.
“Sleep does your entire body good. Clocking seven or eight hours of rest each night has a domino effect that helps everything from your heart to your immune system,” Chakravarty added.
4. Say no to tobacco
Tobacco damages blood vessels, raises blood pressure and makes your heart work harder by reducing the amount of oxygen your blood can carry.
“Giving up smoking is one of the best decisions you can make for your heart,” said McEver. “Within just a year or two of quitting, your risk for coronary heart disease drops sharply.”
5. Know the signs
Although some women have no symptoms of heart disease, many experience chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back, and nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
“Heart disease often goes undetected until a woman has an emergency like a heart attack,” said McEver, noting that women are more likely to die following a heart attack than men.
For that reason, says Chakravarty, women need to know the signs of a cardiac emergency and practice prevention.
“More often than the chest pain radiating in the arm and neck we see in men, women experience dull, gnawing pain in the chest and abdomen along with nausea,” Chakravarty said. “A healthy lifestyle is every woman’s best defense. Start small, and the changes add up.”