By Sangeeta Garg, MD
Most women are natural caregivers—quick to nurture children, make medical appointments for their spouses, and pitch in when a friend needs help. The last person many women care for are themselves. However, this self-neglect can be harmful to your heart.
Here are eight ways you may be harming your heart:
- Putting your needs last: While studies have found that women are better at multitasking than men, this “juggling act” that many women perform often means putting themselves last. When your needs—whether physical, emotional, or psychological—take a back seat, your health can suffer, leading to conditions like high blood pressure, fatigue, stress and more.
- Skipping exercise: Exercise isn’t just a tool for weight loss; being active can boost your mood and make you feel happier. It’s also beneficial for your muscles, bones, skin, brain, and memory, and can make you feel more energetic. Studies also have shown that regular exercise can help improve the quality of your sleep and deepen your sense of relaxation. However, running after your children or grandchildren isn’t enough. Look to get 20 to 30 minutes of movement into your day.
- Drinking diet soda: While diet soda is a lower-calorie drink option, the artificial sweeteners used in most diet beverages have been linked to a host of medical conditions, including type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart attack, stroke, depression, and pre-term delivery. Sugar is being replaced by chemicals that are still being researched. This is not a healthy way to reduce your calorie intake.
- Overemphasizing your level of stress: Twenty years ago, we barely used the word “stress” to describe our lives. Now, we’re often quick to label things as “stressful,” but they are really just natural occurrences in life. Kids, relationships, work, financial issues and more can cause stress, but that’s life. Don’t fixate on your stress. Rather, see the bigger picture and remind yourself that you’re strong and you’ve gotten through things like this before. Do the best you can, and don’t stress the small things. Work on changing your mindset by saying, “I’m not going to let my mind affect my body.” If needed, help manage feelings of stress through activities like yoga, meditation, or journaling.
- Relying on supplements for support: Many of my patients take supposedly “heart healthy” herbal supplements and vitamins that they probably don’t need. At best, these products are ineffective; at worse, they are harmful or interact adversely with prescription medications. If you do take supplements, always tell your doctor what you’re taking and the dosage.
- Running on caffeine: It’s important for women to understand that everyone’s body reacts differently to caffeine, and often, you’re really just dehydrated when you feel sluggish. Avoid supplementing good sleep with coffee, tea, or caffeine-packed shakes and energy drinks that may give you heart palpitations. I treated a patient recently who drank so many high-caffeine coffees that she developed atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke. Adjust your sleep schedule to ensure you’re getting enough sleep to feel restored naturally.
- Too much wine time: While studies have found a correlation between red wine and heart health, if you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. The American Heart Association defines “moderation” as an average of one drink (one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. of 80-proof spirits, or 1 oz. of 100-proof spirits) per day for women. Drinking more alcohol increases your risk of alcoholism, high blood pressure, obesity, stroke, and breast cancer. Ask your doctor about your specific benefits—and risks—of consuming alcohol.
- Expecting overnight results: You’ve heard it before: Making lifestyle changes—and seeing or feeling the results—is a marathon, not a sprint. Being more aware of unhealthy habits is the first step toward making lasting changes that will improve your heart health and overall wellbeing. Be consistent and persistent. The results won’t be instantaneous, but they will be worth it.
Dr. Sangeeta Garg is board-certified in cardiology and internal medicine and is on staff at CentraState Medical Center. She can be reached by calling 866-CENTRA7.