Men vs. Women. It’s the age-old comparison, but it turns out there are key differences to how each gender should approach the health of their heart.
While heart disease is one of the leading causes of death for both sexes, research shows that physicians are often less aggressive in treating women, despite the fact that heart disease is more lethal for them. That’s because women often have atypical symptoms that vary beyond common chest pain. According to Dr. Garth Graham, president of the Aetna Foundation, women’s symptoms can include back pain, sweating and fatigue.
Below, Dr. Graham shares his recommendations on how men and women should each approach heart wellness.
WOMEN: For women, the risk of heart disease doesn’t kick in until after the age of 55. Dr. Graham says the risk increases after menopause as women lose the protective effects that estrogen provides.
MEN: The risk of coronary heart disease begins younger in men – after the age of 45.
WOMEN: Since women’s bodies can hang onto alcohol longer, the effects of excessive drinking can be worse for females. Recommendation: 1 drink per day, maximum.
MEN: One to 2 drinks per day, maximum.
WOMEN: Females start off with the advantage. Under age 45, more men than women have high blood pressure. But after the age of 45, women start to catch up. In fact, by age 70, more women than men have high blood pressure .
MEN: High blood pressure is a more significant risk factor for heart disease for men compared to women. The longer men have had high blood pressure, the worse their heart disease risk, so even young men with high readings are treated as high risk.
WOMEN: For women, diabetes can increase heart disease risk by up to five times – a larger risk increase than for men.
MEN: Diabetes can double men’s chances for developing heart disease.
WOMEN: Turns out not all fat is created equal. Even if women are not obese, they should avoid carrying excess waist around their middle. In research, women should keep their waist under 35 inches.
MEN: A beer belly can also increase the risk for heart disease in men. Keep the mid-section under 40 inches.
WOMEN AND MEN: When it comes to exercise, Dr. Graham says there is simply no one-size-fits-all approach to exercise – but it’s essential to heart health.
“Exercise can provide numerous health benefits, including improved heart health. When it comes to exercise, I advise my patients to find the exercise program that works best for their lifestyle and schedule. You will be more likely to keep up with regular exercise if it fits easily into your daily life.”
Garth Graham, MD, MPH, is president of the Aetna Foundation. In his role, Dr. Graham is responsible for the Foundation’s philanthropic work, including its grant-making strategies to improve the health of people from underserved communities and increase their access to high-quality health care. Dr. Graham previously served as deputy assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he also led the Office of Minority Health.