The little things you do in everyday life are crucial to reducing your heart-disease risk. Your doctor also plays an important part-but you have to "use" her wisely, something the Woman's Day/NHLBI survey found that readers aren't doing. Nearly a third of women didn't know what heart-health questions to ask their doctor, and 45% didn't even bring up the topic. "Discuss the risks that are most relevant to your age, environment, lifestyle and family history," says Sharonne N. Hayes, MD, director of the Women's Heart Clinic at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "These questions are door openers. By having the conversation, you can get a referral to a specialist if necessary."
What are my numbers, and are they in a healthy range?
You shouldn't just know your blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol (including your LDL and HDL) and triglyceride levels. Your doctor should explain to you exactly what those numbers mean-whether they're high, low or just right. If anything's out of whack, your doctor should help you figure out how to improve it through diet, exercise, stress reduction or taking medication if needed.
How often should I have these numbers rechecked? And what follow-up tests should I have?
If your numbers are high, your doctor will probably want to screen more frequently to see if lifestyle changes and/or medications are helping. And "if your blood sugar is higher than 100 mg/dl-in the pre-diabetes range-your doctor may want to do a hemoglobin Aa1C test to get a better look at your blood sugar management over an average of a few months," Dr. Goldberg says.
How is my weight for my height and my age?
"A lot of people who are at a normal weight think they should drop 10 or 15 pounds, while a lot of obese people don't realize how much weight they need to lose," says Dr. Hayes. Your doctor should be totally honest with you about where you stand.
What kind of exercise (and how much) should I be doing, given my overall health?
This will prompt your doctor to consider any health conditions you have (such as arthritis or a knee injury) that could affect your ability to be active. In general, most people should be doing moderate activity (walking, gardening, etc.) at least five days a week, in addition to about 15 minutes of strength training twice a week. But your doctor can help you figure out how much and what type of exercise is best for you.
How significant is my personal risk for heart disease?
By asking this question, you can prompt your doctor to analyze all your risk factors-including those you can change and those you can't (like a family history and getting older)-and give you the big-picture view of your risk. For more information about risk factors that are especially dangerous for women, see "Heart Health: Does Gender Matter?"
Is there anything else I should be doing?
Your doctor may recommend that you take a low-dose aspirin or eat more foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids (found in salmon and other cold-water fatty fish, walnuts, canola oil and flaxseed). She may also advise you to take steps to better manage stress, or consult a sleep specialist if you have signs of a sleep disorder (such as sleep apnea or restless leg syndrome) that could be getting in the way of good-quality zzz's.
You're On The Right Track... Keep Going!
Women are getting more savvy about the heart truth: that each and every woman needs to take her own personal risk of heart disease seriously and do whatever she can to lower it. In our survey with the NHLBI:
73% said they think they're very knowledgeable about the causes and symptoms of heart disease
66% said they've changed their eating habits in order to maintain a healthy heart
49% said they monitor the heart health of many of their family members
60% knew that men are not more susceptible to heart disease than women, and 84% realized that people with a family history of heart disease aren't the only ones who need to monitor their heart health on a regular basis.
For more heart-health tips, check out hearttruth.gov.