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Heart Smarter for Women

​Six Weeks to a Healthier Heart

By Betty Ann Dean


The statistics are sobering. The authors state, “Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Yet far too few women recognize its risks, and there have been tremendous disparities in how women are diagnosed and treated…Heart disease is an equal opportunity killer, and so this book is for all women, from all walks of life, of all ages, and all ethnicities. Heart disease continues to be the leading cause of death of women in the United States. It claims significantly more lives than all cancers combined. But the amazing fact is that over 80 percent of all heart disease is preventable!”


Cardiologists Dr. Jennifer Mieres and Dr. Stacey Rosen have revised their previous bestselling book Heart Smart for Women to include a six-week program to improve heart health. Their program includes week-by-week tips for selecting healthy food options, choosing an exercise regimen, improving nutrition, developing better sleep patterns, reducing stress, and tips for working excellently with your physician. The book contains beginning exercises to improve flexibility, sample heart-healthy menus, and typical portion sizes, as well as a thorough description of coronary anatomy, medications, and tests. 


But let’s go back to those statistics and risk factors. There are certain factors that can be modified and certain ones that cannot. For example, while we can’t do much about our race, age, family history, or genetics, the impact of other risk factors can be adjusted by making changes in our lifestyle. 

Some of those risk factors are different for men and women. “There are certain risk factors that men and women share. These include smoking, high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes, a sedentary lifestyle, high cholesterol, and a family history of heart problems…But there are important differences that are unique to and can be more dangerous for women:

  • Women typically develop heart problems about seven to ten years later in life than men, but by about the age of sixty-five men and women suffer from heart disease at the same rate.

  • Diabetes is a much more potent risk factor for women than for men. Diabetic women are three to seven times more likely to die from heart disease than diabetic men.

  • Women tend to be more obese, more inclined to have a sedentary lifestyle, and more likely to suffer from hypertension and diabetes than men.”


Other risk factors to consider in women are pregnancy-related complications of gestational diabetes, autoimmune and inflammatory diseases (which occur more commonly in women), radiation-induced heart disease (as a result of breast cancer treatments), and behavioral issues such as depression, stress, and anxiety. The authors include a checklist so that readers can evaluate their personal risk factors.


Symptoms of heart problems are also frequently different for women than men. While most of us are familiar with the description of heart attacks as feeling like “an elephant sitting on my chest”, women may perceive the pain that begins in the chest and moves to the shoulders, jaw, arms, neck, or back rather than the typical heaviness in the chest. In addition, shortness of breath, dizziness, nausea, sweating, digestive upsets, or overwhelming fatigue can also indicate a potential heart issue. Many of these symptoms can be easily dismissed as insignificant as they can be fleeting, but as the authors recommend, seeing your doctor if you are experiencing any of these seemingly minor symptoms can help to prevent a more serious problem.


Let’s dive in a little more deeply into one of the risk factors. Stress is something we are all familiar with. We often lament about being “stressed out” or a “stress mess”. We are exposed to so many things these days that we might not even consider to be contributing factors to our stress levels–the usual pressures from our work, our family demands, and our never-ending “to-do” lists. But in addition, there are many more stressors in our world these days as we navigate constant exposure to electronics, chemicals in the air and in our food, and the constant barrage of information in the media. Our bodies were never designed to handle the many environmental things present in today’s world, and many of us find ourselves in a “fight or flight” mode most of the time which adds to our overload. 


This can be bad news for the heart and the circulatory system. Feeling intense pressure can lead to behaviors that are certainly not heart-healthy–overeating, drinking too much alcohol, problems getting enough good quality sleep, and even irritability and depression. High-stress levels correlate with high cortisol levels in the body, which contribute to belly fat, rising blood sugar levels, and increased anxiety. 


The authors identify several warning signs of too much stress:

  • Physical signs: Dizziness, aches, pains, muscle spasms, teeth grinding, headaches, indigestion, racing heartbeat, exhaustion, and excessive weight loss or gain.

  • Emotional signs: Anxiety, anger, crying, depression, mood swings, irritability, sadness.

  • Cognitive signs: Inability to concentrate, poor memory, constant worrying, difficulty making decisions.

  • Behavioral signs: Overeating, excessing drinking, drug use, or smoking, quick temper, impulsive actions, and withdrawal from social situations.


As a former coronary care nurse who has now embraced alternative medicine in addition to my traditional training, I was happy to see that the authors touched on options for relieving stress such as mindfulness meditation, relaxation techniques, and finding moments in the day for activities that spark joy. 


However, many times it is not in our nature to get out of that “fight or flight” response into the “rest and repair” mode. Since “rest and repair” are where healing happens, it’s important to learn how to cultivate that response. One of the quickest and most effective ways for us to drop into the healing mode is to practice presence by focusing on our breathing. Coming back to the breath always brings us back to the present moment. For most of us, there is a definite learning curve in cultivating presence and staying in the present. As we begin to familiarize ourselves with presence, we must remind ourselves over and over again to return to the breath until that becomes our habit. It is definitely a learning curve for most of us as we have been used to rushing on to the next event or commitment without much thought of being mindful. While the authors touch on a focused deep breathing technique, I would love to have seen this presented in a more expanded version. A worksheet is included to help readers deal with their stresses–things like decluttering, listening to music, delegating more to others, and reducing screen time. While of course, these are helpful actions, there are many more lasting practices that can give a deeper foundation to rely on for dealing with our stresses and struggles.


Managing stress seems a perfect place to blend Western and alternative medicine. Therapies such as acupuncture, hands-on healing techniques, medical intuition, hypnosis, and Reiki are only a few of the many modalities that have been shown to reduce stress and encourage the relaxation response. Healing is a complex process and there are many paths to wellness. While of course, we need the intricacies of traditional medicine, embracing alternative practices is true integrative medicine that provides complete healing of the body, mind, and soul.


Heart Smarter for Women is an excellent foundational guide for understanding heart disease in women. However, I believe we can go further in our treatment of the heart issues plaguing so many women by bringing in wisdom from all disciplines. Disease of any type always involves an emotional aspect. Using the resources of both Western and alternative therapies benefits all. As we uncover the root causes of illness and blend the healing of those causes with traditional medicine, we are healing at the very deepest level.


Betty Ann Dean, R.N., B.S.N., has worked in various settings as a registered nurse. In 2008 she began to explore energy medicine as taught by Donna Eden as a way of healing the body in addition to traditional medicine. She is certified as a practitioner of Bowenwork, a hands-on healing therapy, and brings a rich background of corrective exercise to her healing modalities as a result of her 10 years of experience as a personal trainer. In 2020, Betty Ann was certified at the Masters level as a medical intuitive and continues to study with her mentor, Tina Zion.


Her practice, Vibrant Bodyworks, is located in Liberty, MO, and Parkville, MO. 


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