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Heart Health Champion: An Epidemic of Overburdened Women

It can be difficult to prioritize your heart health when daily life is a blur. But Kaitlyn Dugan Ibrahim, MD, a cardiologist at Main Line Health, explains why women need to put themselves first.

Are there any trends among your female patients that give you cause for concern? 

Heart disease is the number one killer of women and men. Often times, women are the caretakers for their spouses, children and/or aging parents, and don’t have the time to prioritize their own heart health. I try to stress it’s important to make your own heart health a priority because if your heart isn’t healthy, you won’t be able to take care of those around you. 

How can women prioritize their heart health? 

It sounds cliché, but knowledge is power. Understanding risk factors for heart disease is the first step, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, obesity and a family history of early heart disease. It’s important to prioritize regular follow-ups with either a primary care physician or cardiologist to ensure these risk factors are being managed and controlled. 

Which lifestyle changes would have the greatest impact? 

The importance of lifestyle changes cannot be understated. Regular physical activity is the key to heart health, and the aim is for at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. Couple it with a heart-healthy diet that focuses on a variety of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, minimally processed foods, no added sugar and limited alcohol intake. 

What is your advice for women who are daunted by lifestyle changes? 

I get it. I’m a mom of a toddler and I work full-time. A complete lifestyle overhaul is not going to be possible for everyone. Try starting small and building in sustainable habits on a day-to-day basis. Over time, it will translate to a healthier, more active and heart-friendly lifestyle. 

How do you recommend getting started? 

Move more. It’s that simple. We know exercise has innumerable benefits: It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, strengthens muscles, controls weight, stops or slows the development of diabetes, reduces stress and inflammation and much more. And we know active people tend to develop less heart disease than their sedentary counterparts. We also know people with newly diagnosed heart disease who participate in exercise programs have a lower risk of death and cardiac complications. These programs have also been shown to boost mood and energy, and enhance quality of life. Exercise is vital. Best of all, it doesn’t have to cost a thing. 

With all the advances in your field, can you highlight one that’s reshaping your practice? 

The array of wearable technologies is empowering my patients. Fitness trackers motivate them to move more, while some devices can even record an EKG and transmit it directly to me. Where prevention is concerned, they’ve been a game-changer.