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Fitness Focus Copy-and-Share: Women and Cardiovascular Disease

Thompson, Dixie L. Ph.D., FACSM

ACSM'S Health & Fitness Journal: July/August 2007 - Volume 11 - Issue 4 - p 5
doi: 10.1249/01.FIT.0000281219.16020.60
Departments: Fitness Focus Copy-and-Share

This copy-and-share column provides information about women and cardiovascular disease.

Dixie L. Thompson, Ph.D., FACSM, is the director of the Center for Physical Activity and Health and a professor in the Department of Exercise, Sport, and Leisure Studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recently released updated guidelines directed at prevention of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in women. Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women, and many CVD risk factors can be modified by lifestyle choices.

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The AHA guidelines are consistent with the ACSM recommendation that adults should accumulate at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most, preferably all, days of the week. Moderate activity can take many forms (brisk walking, cycling, swimming, etc.) and can be done either in one continuous bout or in shorter bouts spread through the day. However, this is a minimum level linked with prevention of CVD, and for many CVD risk factors, more exercise provides even better health outcomes. Women who are trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss should strive for 60 to 90 minutes of daily exercise.

The AHA recognizes the importance of cardiac rehabilitation for women who have heart disease. These programs include not only exercise training, but also risk factor management through other lifestyle changes, such as healthy eating, smoking cessation, and stress management.

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The AHA recommends a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, fiber, and whole grains, and further suggests that women consume fish at least twice per week. Specific upper limits include:

* saturated fat preferably less than 7% of total calories

* cholesterol of less than 300 mg/day

* alcohol of no more than 1 drink per day

* sodium less than 2.3 g/day

* trans fatty acids as low as possible (<1% of calories)

The AHA also recognizes that the typical American diet is low in ω-3 fatty acids (see Fitness Focus Omega-3 fatty acids. ACSM's Health & Fitness Journal® 11(1):4, 2007) and therefore suggests that women might consider supplementing their diets with over-the-counter capsules.

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Body mass index (BMI) is used to express whether one's weight is healthy based on height. The recommended BMI range is 18.5 to 24.9. To calculate your BMI, measure your weight in pounds and your height in inches and then use the following formula:

Women should strive to have a waist circumference of 35 inches or less. If BMI or waist circumference is above the recommended range, the AHA suggests using exercise and healthy eating to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

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Women should interact with their physicians to ensure that blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood glucose are at healthy levels. When lifestyle is inadequate to achieve appropriate levels, medications may be prescribed. All women should avoid smoking and environments where smoke is present.

All women are at risk for developing CVD, and it takes a conscious effort to live a heart-healthy lifestyle. The good news is that following the above recommendations is a proven way to lower one's risk for CVD.

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