Matters of the Heart

The Wilsons were having a barbecue. Hickory smoke and the tang of spices filled the air. Renee Wilson sat in the backyard chatting with friends and enjoying one of the last bright days of summer. “We had just finished eating and suddenly my back started hurting,” Renee recalls. “I just couldn’t get comfortable.”

Then Renee’s arm started hurting.

“It was extremely painful,” Renee says. “I told my daughter, ‘I don’t feel good.’ And she said, ‘Mom you don’t look good. You’re turning grey.'”

Concerned, Renee’s daughter took her to the hospital. Then came the shocking diagnosis: at just 49 years old, Renee was having a heart attack.

“I was extremely surprised,” Renee says. “I had no clue.”

Renee was rushed into emergency surgery and had two stints placed in her heart.

Like many women in her position, Renee’s heart attack came as a total shock.

“I never got sick,” Renee says. “When I had my heart attack everyone was like, ‘Renee had a heart attack? Seriously?’ I thought I was healthy. Everyone else did too.”

Renee’s story is all too common. According to the Centers for Disease Control, every 34 seconds someone in the U.S has a heart attack. Every minute someone dies from heart disease. And the risk is especially high for women. More women die from heart disease each year than men. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.



Eat Right:

Your diet plays a big part in heart health. The American Heart Association gives the following suggestions for adults on a 2,000 calorie diet. Remember, you don’t have to make all these changes at once. Making small, lasting changes is better than going to temporary or unsustainable extremes.

Aim for the following servings:

  1. Fruits and vegetables: at least 4-5 cups a day
  2. Fish (preferably oily fish): At least two 3.5 oz servings a week
  3. Fiber-rich whole grains: At least three 1 oz servings a day
  4. Sodium: Less than 1,500 mg a day
  5. Sugar-sweetened beverages: No more than 450 calories a week (36 fl. oz.)
  6. Saturated fat: Less than 7% of total caloric intake

Exercise Regularly:

A sedentary lifestyle is a major risk factor for developing coronary artery disease (CAD), the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death in the United States. By adding as little as 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise just five days a week you can reduce your risk of heart disease, lower your blood pressure and cholesterol, and even help maintain a health weight.
What qualifies as moderate-intensity exercise?
A s a general rule, people participating in moderate intensity activities can talk but not sing while exercising. If you’re doing vigorous-intensity activity, you will only be able to say a few words before needing to take a breath. Some examples of moderate-intensity exercise would be walking briskly (more than 3 MPH but not race-walking), gardening, water aerobics, bicycling (less than 10 MPH), doubles tennis and ballroom dancing.


Maintain a Healthy Weight:

People who are overweight or obese have a greater chance of developing heart disease. The National Heart, Lung, and BloodInstitute recommends you look at both body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference when calculating you health risk.
BMI is calculated using your height and weight. The higher your BMI, the higher your risk of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and other health problems. To calculate your BMI, go to and type in “BMI calculator.”
In addition to your BMI, you should also look at your midsection circumference. The danger of heart disease goes up with a midsection larger than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men. Also, if you have more fat on your waist than on your hips, you have an increased risk of heart disease. Don’t give up hope if your weight isn’t where you want it to be. Losing just 5-10 percent of your body weight can lower your risk of developing heart disease.

Don’t Smoke:

Did you know that smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease? That’s because smoking is a serious contributor to atherosclerosis, the buildup of fat in the arteries. When the arteries around your heart become narrowed as a result, your chances of cardiac event rise substantially. The American Heart Association cites smoking as the most significant preventable cause of premature death in the United States. Smokers who go through a pack a day have twice the risk of heart attack as nonsmokers.

Need help quitting?
There are many programs available to help. Go to for help quitting, staying smoke-free or even helping a friend stop.

Avoid Excess Stress:

When you’re stressed, you have a higher chance of eating a poor diet, smoking and choosing the couch over a walk outside. In addition your body actually behaves differently under stress. According to the World Heart Federation, studies show that acute stress reduces blood flow to the heart, raises your heart rate and increases your chances of a blood clot–all things that can trigger the start of heart disease.