So, Valentine’s Day has passed, but it is still a really good time to think about hearts.

Not the frilly red ones filled with chocolates that are spilling out of sale carts at Price Chopper right now.  And not the yard signs that dot the White House lawn, encouraging Unity and Gratitude and Kindness.  Not even those precious construction paper ones your kids and grandkids may have showered you with in years gone by.Keep

It’s time to think about the real heart.  The organ.  The hardest working muscle in your body.  Your heart weighs about a pound, is approximately the same size as your fist and never stops working.  It beats nearly 5,000 times an hour and pumps more than 2,000 gallons of blood throughout your body every day.  A woman’s heart weighs slightly less than a man’s heart, but beats even faster.

Heart Disease and Women

Almost every minute, a woman in the United States dies of heart disease — more than 1,000 women every day; more than deaths in females from all forms of cancer combined.  While some heart disease is congenital (hereditary), most forms of heart disease are caused by our attention — or lack of attention — to health and habits.

Healthline magazine says, “Your heart affects every part of your body.  That also means that diet, lifestyle and your emotional well-being all affect your heart.”

Seemingly, most people believe that heart attacks are more common in men, but that is simply not true.  Unfortunately, symptoms of heart attack in women are seemingly unrelated to the heart — including pain in one or both arms, sweating and indigestion.

These symptoms are more vague and more commonplace — especially for women — than the crushing chest pain commonly associated with heart attack, and as a result, women tend to ignore them or not “connect the dots.”

One reason the symptoms between men and women are so disparate is that blockages in the smaller, lighter female heart often occur in the smaller arteries surrounding the heart, not the main arteries.  This is called coronary microvascular disease and until recently, was undetectable by standard angiograms.

Heart disease strikes women of all ages, not specifically older women, although risk can increase with menopause, depression and arthritis — conditions often associated with older women.  For generations, women young and old have been reticent to seek medical attention for symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath and depression (assuming that was par for the female course, in many cases), when in fact, those comparatively minor symptoms are the primary red flags for heart disease in women.

Reduce Your Risk

In addition to regular check-ups with your physician, the best ways to reduce your risk of heart disease are quite simple (and healthy life habits, regardless of the state of your heart!):

  1. If you smoke, stop.  If you don’t, don’t start.  Even second-hand smoke can restrict blood flow and weaken your heart.
  2. Exercise regularly at a pace that causes you to stretch, but not strain.
  3. Watch your diet and maintain a healthy weight.  Carrying excess weight often leads to high blood pressure and diabetes — and heart disease.
  4. Laugh!  Medical research supports that laughter reduces stress and stress can cause your arteries to tighten — specifically those smaller arteries that are most problematic for women.

Motivational blogger Khuana ( said that “A beautiful woman is one with a beautiful heart.”

By and large, a woman’s heart is filled with beauty; and love and joy and understanding.  And that, we celebrate.

But no woman — or man — should forget that the center of our greatest happiness can often be the source of our worst nightmare.

And it is up to us to take care of it.