Most women I meet, if asked about their greatest health concern, would probably name breast cancer as the malady they most fear. But though breast cancer might generate a more passionate reaction than heart disease, the truth of the matter is this: More women in the United States die each year from heart disease than from all cancers combined.
One out of five women in this country has some form of cardiovascular disease. It is the leading cause of death in American women, claiming more than half a million lives annually.
And it's no longer considered an older woman's disease. Even though women typically don't show signs of heart disease until their 60s (roughly 10 years later than men), about 9,000 women each year under age 45 experience a heart attack.
In addition to the age at onset, there are other things that distinguish heart disease in women from heart disease in men. Women tend to do worse after their first heart attack. Forty-two percent of women who have a heart attack will die within the first year as compared to 24 percent of men.
Heart disease often goes unrecognized in women. The symptoms may be unusual, ignored or attributed to something less serious, such as indigestion. And many women don't experience any symptoms at all prior to having their first heart attack.
I'm not telling you all this because I want to leave you worried and apprehensive; but I do want to stir up in you a desire to modify your lifestyle so that your risk of developing heart disease is lowered.
Our lifestyles play a major role in our health and longevity. In America, 300,000 deaths each year are related to improper diet and inadequate exercise. If you add the deaths attributable to smoking, alcohol, illicit drugs and sexual indiscretion, the number becomes astonishing.
Lifestyle is such a major factor in heart disease that an estimated 80 percent of cases are linked directly to unhealthy eating and lifestyle habits. Solomon said, "Where there is no guidance, the people fall" (Prov. 11:14, NASB).
But when it comes to health, too many of us are falling, even in the face of reliable and readily available guidance. Information on health abounds and is more accessible now than at any other time in our history.
Medical research has increased the level of understanding for not only physicians and other health care providers but also the general public. Television, newspapers, magazines and the Internet provide a never-ending flow of data on health-related topics. The information is there; we're just not implementing it.
Of course, not everyone who suffers from a heart attack or finds himself in need of bypass surgery can shoulder the entire blame for his situation. Certainly there are people who have a predisposition to heart disease that is totally beyond their control.
But in spite of the fact that some of us are in a position to change our risk for disease through modifying our behavior, too many (born-again believers included) are simply not taking any tangible steps toward change.
Making Healthy Choices
So what are some ways to lower your risk? The majority of risk factors for heart disease can be positively modified through lifestyle changes. Only one risk factor—having a genetic predisposition—is completely beyond our control.
Other risk factors include tobacco use, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and a sedentary lifestyle, all of which are influenced by the way we live.
Besides cigarette smoking and a family history of heart disease, all the risk factors listed above are impacted by our eating and exercise habits. As I mentioned before, poor diet and a lack of exercise are the cause of 300,000 deaths each year. Even if a risk factor cannot be entirely eliminated by practicing healthier habits (there are plenty of people, for instance, who diligently follow a low-salt diet but still have high blood pressure), lifestyle modification is still recommended and is highly beneficial.
Lifestyle modification may also impact a risk factor I haven't yet mentioned—an unhealthy emotional state. The scientific community continues to confirm what the Bible has taught us all along: There's a compelling link between negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and hostility and an increased risk for heart disease.
The connection between heart failure and anger is especially strong. Anger and hostility evoke physiological responses in our bodies that are potentially life-threatening.
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