Women and heart disease

Heart disease is the biggest cause of death for British women. Use these 10 tips for women to protect yourself.

Did you know that women are twice as likely to die of heart disease than breast cancer?

In the years following the menopause, your risk of getting heart disease rises significantly. 

Take this online test to find out how healthy your heart is. And follow these 10 simple steps to protect yourself.

Get your cholesterol and blood pressure checked

If you're aged 40-74, and don't already have a health condition such as diabetes, you are entitled to a free NHS Health Check from your GP to assess your risk of developing heart disease. This would include checking your blood pressure and cholesterol level.

If your blood pressure or cholesterol level is higher than it should be, this increases your risk of heart disease and stroke.

Your GP can suggest lifestyle changes or, if necessary, prescribe medication to reduce your blood pressure or cholesterol.

Read more about the NHS Health Check for people aged 40-74.

Stop smoking to protect your heart

You're twice as likely to have a heart attack if you smoke. Over the past few decades, men have increasingly quit smoking but women haven't been stopping smoking as much.

Stopping smoking will lessen your chances of developing heart disease.

Find out how the NHS can help you stop smoking.

Do more exercise to prevent heart disease

Only about one in four women in England does enough physical activity to protect her heart. Try to do more exercise, including regular aerobic exercise such as walking and swimming.

To protect your heart, you need to do at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (such as cycling or fast walking) every week.

Find out how to get more active.

Lose weight if you need to

About six in every 10 women in England are either overweight or obese.

Carrying excess weight puts a strain on your heart, and you're more likely to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol and type 2 diabetes, all of which increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. 

Use our BMI calculator to find out if you are overweight.

Read more about how to lose weight.

Watch your waist to reduce your risk of heart disease

Your shape matters as well as your weight. Measuring your waist is a good way to check you're not carrying too much fat around your stomach, which can raise your risk of heart disease.

Aim for a waistline of less than 80cm (31.5 inches).

Read more about why your waist size matters.

Check your risk of diabetes

Women with type 2 diabetes are three to five times more likely to get heart disease than those without the condition. 

Type 2 diabetes is linked to being overweight or obese and a waist measurement of 80cm (31.5 inches) or above.

Check whether you are at risk with this quick and simple test.

Reduce alcohol to help your heart

It used to be thought that a moderate level of alcohol was good for the heart. However, the evidence of a protective effect is less strong than previously thought.

To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, especially if you drink most weeks, the NHS recommends that women (and men) should drink no more than 14 units a week on a regular basis. This should be spread over three or more days.

If you drink more than this, you'll increase your risk of heart disease. Too much alcohol, or binge-drinking, can damage the heart muscle leading to abnormal heart rhythms or heart failure.

Read more about alcohol units and how to cut down your drinking.

Balance your diet

Eat healthily and be especially careful not to eat more salt than is recommended (no more than 6g a day). Cut down on the amount of saturated fat and sugar you eat, too.

Read more about how to cut down on saltsaturated fat and sugar, and have a healthy balanced diet.

Don't rely on HRT to avoid heart disease

Research now suggests that HRT isn’t heart protective. However, the latest evidence confirms that HRT doesn't increase the risk of heart disease when started in women aged under 60.

Read more about HRT.

Manage your stress

Some studies have suggested that stress can contribute to heart disease. If you feel under a lot of stress, it's important to learn how to relax.

There are some simple techniques you can learn to help you cope with stress. If you feel so stressed and anxious that it's affecting your daily life, your GP can help you deal with it.

Read more about how to manage stress.

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