Being heart smart

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By Carolyn Risner

February may have come and gone, but the facts remain: every month should be Heart Month-especially if you're a woman.

Television commercials, print ads and even soap operas got in on the month-long message that women need to be more aware of their hearts.

And that's not the figurative heart that we give away on Valentine's Day.

Heart disease is now the leading cause of death among women in this country.

The reason? It's unclear.

Perhaps it's because women manifest completely different symptoms as men-symptoms that often go unnoticed because we chalk them up to the everyday strain of life.

We feel a pain in our backs and think it's because we've carried a toddler on our hip most of the day or sat too long at our computer.

Our jaws ache and we reason it's because we're eating the inferior grade of steak we bought to save money in our tight household budgets.

There may not be heaviness in the chest or shooting pain down our left arm.

And we go on while this silent, but deadly, disease wages battle in our chests.

Heart disease is rampant in the maternal lineage of my family. So when my body began exhibiting signs that just weren't right, I didn't hesitate to get to a cardiologist immediately.

It was irony that I had my very first EKG on Valentine's Day.

Over the last three weeks I have had numerous tests in the pursuit of determining how healthy my heart is.

So far, so good. With all but one test result back, it seems that everything is normal .

The thought of having a heart problem was daunting and I was more than a little scared as I went through some of the tests.

But as I told friends, even if everything comes back normal this will give me a baseline for the senior years-especially needed because of my family history.

Women everywhere should take the time to listen to their bodies.

And while they're doing that, take some preventative measures to ensure that you're heart smart:

*Know your numbers, specifically cholesterol levels and your blood pressure.

*Eat a low-fat diet. Splurge occasionally but stay clear of saturated fats.

*Exercise at least 20 minutes a day, three days a week.

*Cut back on smoking-or better yet, stop. Smoking narrows your vessels and staunches blood flow to the heart causing it to have to pump harder.

*Reduce your stress level. Meditate. Pray. Laugh. Laugh a lot.

But most of all, don't shrug off some of these symptoms.

Listen to your body. Those you love will whole-heartedly agree.