Heart disease is the number-one killer of women, not just in the United States, but in every major developed country and most emerging economies. Yet public awareness remains disturbingly low. For the first time in forty years, the number of U.S. women under the age of fifty-four who die from heart- related issues is increasing. Fortunately, for the millions of women who have been diagnosed or are at risk, heart disease does not have to be a death sentence. Only three risk factors for cardiovascular disease are out of one’s control, and new research shows that simple life changes can have a huge impact on heart health.
According to a revolutionary study by Harvard-trained cardiologist Malissa Wood, complete cardiovascular health must address the whole heart. Her new book, Smart at Heart, bridges the gap between the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of a healthy heart and delivers a toolbox of new scientific findings on what women at risk for heart disease can do to improve their own health.
Dr. Wood’s breakthrough mind-body approach empowers women to become smart at heart by evaluating their whole life—from their relationships to their environment to their mental state. According to Dr. Wood, there are ten ―bridges‖ to a healthy heart. Attending to and strengthening each of these key areas of one’s life not only fights heart disease, but also builds a strong heart both physically and emotionally.
For example, while exercise and nutrition are known to improve cardiac health (and make up two of the bridges), Dr. Wood’s study also shows how small changes to our environment, the way we communicate, or how we handle stress can affect our hearts as much as activities like daily walks or eating right. Not only is exercise and good nutrition a viable part of the heart health solution, but something as commonplace as clearing out the clutter at home can also have a profound and positive impact on our emotions and physical well-being. Such findings are changing the way doctors (and others) look at improving cardiac health. As Dr. Wood explains, ―defusing toxic relationships can be as important to heart health as easing up on the butter in mashed potatoes.‖
Here is another example: A 2010 joint study by Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that people with weak social connections had on average 50 percent higher odds of death in the study’s follow-up period than people with more solid connections. That improvement in lifespan is equal to the impact of quitting smoking. Studies like this demonstrate the importance of looking at the whole heart in the treatment of heart disease, and how lifestyle changes can make a big difference. (See pages 19–23 for more examples.)
Heart disease is a serious diagnosis, but new research proves that there is a lot women can do to improve their own health (and it’s a lot more than doctors realized just a few years ago). Backed by science, Smart at Heart empowers women to create not just a life-sustaining heart, but the added benefit of an enjoyable and heart-sustaining life.
Dr. Wood will be discussing and signing Smart at Heart at the Concord Bookshop on Sunday, January 8 at 3pm.