Heart disease is a concern for both men and women, and how you work as a couple to ward it off often predicts how successful you will be.
Differences between men and women: Men have heart disease risk factors earlier in life than women. But women catch up after menopause, when estrogen and its heart-protective effects wane. Men tend to die younger from acute events such as heart attack…when women die of heart disease, it tends to be after a lengthy period of living with the condition.
As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort, but women may experience other symptoms that are less associated with heart attack, including…
- Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back
- Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
- Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort
- Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
When a couple works as a team to fight heart disease, the outcome for both partners improves exponentially. And if one partner has heart disease, having his/her spouse’s help encourages a heart-healthy lifestyle.
First step: Know your risks. Both partners should know if there’s any history of heart disease in the family…get screened annually for diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure…and quit if they smoke. Work-related stress also is a risk, and women often face stressors at home because they’re tasked with caregiving responsibilities. Other steps…
Follow a healthy diet. Eating more vegetables and fruits is a great start for better nutrition.
Lose weight. It is easier to achieve a weight goal when both partners are on the same page.
Be more active. Make a list of what activities you can do together to reach the weekly goal of 150 minutes. Exercise also is a great way to reconnect with a partner after retirement.
Enhance the emotional health of your relationship. Having strong relationships is as important as quitting smoking. Partners in a happy marriage are more open to including each other in their decisions to practice better habits. They also tend to have lower blood pressure than people who aren’t married. If your marriage is strained: Get help from a counselor or marriage and family therapist.
Learn tools for stress reduction and healthy sleep. Meditate or do breathing exercises or yoga…cultivate joy by engaging in enjoyable activities…listen to or play music…spend time in nature.
Change your personal outlook on life. Having a positive outlook is protective, whereas being a pessimist is linked to a bad outcome for heart disease. Often one person in a couple is more positive than the other. Try to get your partner to see the world in a better light with small but effective practices. Important: If either partner is depressed, intervention may be needed.