The Best Advice to Prevent Coronary Artery Disease

At this point, there's no beating around the bush: Sitting is bad for you. Really bad for you. Not only is it lowering life expectancy and leading to weight gain, but studies show that sedentary behavior influences your mental health and can up your risk of certain cancers. Well, you get the point.

February is heart health month, which is a perfect time for a check in, as heart disease is the leading cause of death among women. We tapped Beth Battaglino, RN, chief executive officer of HealthyWomen, for advice on what women specifically should be aware of. Her latest project, Spread the Word is a new resource and education program from HealthyWomen and Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health directed specifically to the most common form of heart disease, coronary artery disease or CAD. Start with Battaglino's top advice below:

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What's the most important thing for women to understand about heart disease and CAD?

Women present symptoms very differently than men. Men get that kind of crushing pain in their chest or they may experience heart burn that doesn't go away so they go see their health care provider because they realize every over the counter drug is just not alleviating it. Those [people] get the diagnosis. [In] women it's much more it's easy to dismiss the symptoms.

What are some of the signs women should be aware of?

For example, some of the signs would be an upset stomach, nausea or vomiting, sudden onset of fatigue or weakness, pain in upper back, shoulder and upper jaw. And if you look at the symptoms, it's kind of easy for us to ignore, right—what female do you know that's not tired? To tenderness or soreness in arms, you might say 'I must have lifted something incorrectly or pulled a muscle,' and you kind of dismiss it, thinking it will go away. Have a conversation with your healthcare provider, start that heart health dialogue and understand the test options that are available.

More: 8 Tips for Long-Term Heart Health

Does the likelihood of developing heart disease vary across different health and fitness levels, meaning, does being fit provide a protective effect?

You have these people that are very fit and healthy, but that doesn't mean they can't die of a heart attack. So you still need to have that heart health dialogue, which includes understanding your heart health history or your cholesterol history. High blood pressure is another factor where the symptoms are very subtle and you can dismiss them, but it can be an indicator. Even the fittest can have high blood pressure in their family health history.

What's the top piece of heart health advice you'd give to your friends?

Educate yourself! You can't expect your health care provider to know and remember everything, so it's really important that you take on that role to educate and empower yourself. One way is by visiting and sharing this resource with others. Some of the preventative measures you can take involves having an understanding of changes in lifestyle [that can help you]. Exercising, watching what you eat, meditating and acupuncture are all great ways to de-stress, and [we've] seen tons of results for overall wellness and wellbeing using those tools. And, it's really important for women to take the time to take care of themselves. When visiting the doctor's office, they should remember that there's now a range of noninvasive testing options that can help with a more accurate diagnosis. Women are often so worried about their families and their husbands or significant others having a heart attack that they often dismiss their own signs and symptoms.

Let's put it this way: Battaglino thinks it's important to consistently make your health a priority. And we couldn't agree more.

More: How Being in a Relationship Affects Your Heart Health

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About the Author

Paige DePaolis

SELF gives you great advice on being healthy, happy, slimmer, fitter and less stressed.

SELF gives you great advice on being healthy, happy, slimmer, fitter and less stressed.

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