Heart Health: Lowering Your Risk

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What women can do for better heart health.

Eat right. Exercise. This is standard operating proecdure to maintaining health and, in turn, lowering risk for heart-related illnesses. And a little exercise can go a long way.

Jose Maria Huerta of the Murcia Regional Health Authority in Spain led a study in which it was determined women who walk roughly three hours a week are less likely to suffer from stroke. Starting in the mid ‘90s, Mr. Huerta and his team of researchers asked about 33,000 men and women to answer a physical activity questionnaire as part of a larger European cancer project, then divided participants by gender, exercise type and total time spent exercising each week.

During the 12-year follow-up period, women who were regular walkers had a 43 percent reduction in stroke risk compared to the inactive group. So findings concluded that women who walked briskly for 210 minutes or more a week not only had a lower stroke risk than inactive women, but also lower than those who cycled and did other higher-intensity workouts.

Each year about 795,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Guidelines set by the World Health Organization and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend moderate exercise, such as brisk walking each week, for at least 150 minutes – less than the time spent by the participants in the European study – to lower stroke risk. So whether you stick to the recommended 150-minute a week activity level, or increase it by another hour to keep up with the Europeans, you could potentially reduce your risk for stroke.

As for dietary choices, another study by the AHA journal, Circulation, began in 1989 with roughly 93,600 women ages 25-42 answering detailed surveys about their diets every 4 to 18 years to examine the relationship between a group of dietary flavenoids called anthocyanins (pigments responsible for the vibrant red, purple and blue colors of many fruits) and the risk of myocardial infarction.

During the study period, 405 heart attacks occurred, and the study found that subjects who ate three or more servings of strawberries and blueberries weekly were 32 percent less likely to be among the group who suffered early heart attack.

Why these two fruits? According to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, strawberries and blueberries are the most commonly consumed berries in the U.S. And researchers from the AHA’s study suggest anthocyanins may be responsible for the health benefits seen in the study’s subjects.

Anthocyanins are known to counter plaque buildup that causes atherosclerosis, a common disorder that hardens arteries. And findings from the study lead researchers to believe the bioactive compounds present in red and blue fruits commonly consumed in a regular diet may be associated with a reduced risk of myocardial infarction in young and middle-aged women.

In the end, researchers found that eating colorful fruits can be ‘berry beneficial.’ And adding this fruit consumption to your existing diet while adhering to a moderate exercise regimen of a few hours a week could help lower your risk for heart problems. Need even more motivation for better heart health? Read the “In Her Words” feature by Annabelle S. Volgman, MD, medical director of Rush University Medical Center’s Heart Center for Women by clicking here.

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About Carrie Williams

Carrie Williams is TCW's managing/digital editor. She manages day-to-day editorial operations of the monthly print publication, website and social media outlets, contributes to a variety of feature articles and directs a team of interns, freelance writers and bloggers. In early 2013, she led the redesign of TCWmag.com/restructure of TCW's brand strategy. Her blog, "Carrie On," is a blog of reflection and discovery, discussing how to push through life when you’re handed one too many curveballs. And finally, Ms. Williams is also executive director of the TCW Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit supporting underfunded women's and children's organizations.