Exercise to reduce the risk of heart disease in women

In general, everybody should do moderate exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace, on most days of the week. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity. That's about 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

For even more health benefits, aim for 300 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week. That's about 60 minutes a day, five days a week. In addition, aim to do strength training exercises two or more days a week.

If you can't get all of your exercise completed in one session, try breaking up your physical activity into several 10-minute sessions during a day. You'll still get the same heart-health benefits.

Interval training — in which you alternate short bursts of intense activity with intervals of lighter activity — is another exercise alternative you might try. For example, you could incorporate short bursts of jogging or fast walking into your regular walks. Interval training may help you burn more calories than continuous exercise, and it can help you maintain a healthy weight and keep your heart healthy.

You can make other small changes to increase your physical activity throughout the day. For example, try taking the stairs instead of the elevator, walking or riding your bicycle to work or to do errands, or doing situps or pushups while watching television.

What's a healthy weight?

What's considered a healthy weight varies from person to person, but having a normal body mass index (BMI) is helpful. BMI is a measurement calculated from height and weight. It helps you see if you have a healthy or unhealthy percentage of body fat. A BMI of 25 or higher can be associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

Waist circumference also is a useful tool to measure whether or not you're overweight. Women are generally considered overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (89 centimeters).

Losing even a small amount of weight can help by lowering your blood pressure and reducing your risk of diabetes — both of which increase your risk of heart disease.

Is the treatment for heart disease in women different than in men?

Generally, heart disease treatment in women and in men is similar. Treatment may include medications, angioplasty and stenting, or coronary bypass surgery. Angioplasty and stenting, commonly used treatments for heart attack, are effective for both men and women. However, women who don't have typical chest pain are less likely to be offered these potentially lifesaving options.

And, in women, if heart symptoms are mainly caused by coronary microvascular disease, treatment generally includes healthy lifestyle changes and medications.

Doctors may recommend cardiac rehabilitation to improve health and recover from heart disease.

Taking aspirin to prevent heart disease in women

Guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) urge women to be more aggressive about cutting their cardiovascular disease risk. For some women, this includes a daily aspirin. But, the routine use of daily aspirin therapy to prevent heart disease in low-risk women younger than 65 years old isn't recommended.

Doctors may recommend that women older than 65 years take a daily 81-milligram aspirin to help prevent heart disease if their blood pressure is controlled and the risk of digestive bleeding is low. Aspirin might also be considered for at-risk women younger than 65 years for stroke prevention.

But, don't start taking aspirin for heart disease prevention on your own. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of taking aspirin based on your individual risk factor.

June 14, 2016 See more In-depth