Exercise to reduce the risk of heart disease in women

In general, you should do moderate exercise, such as walking at a brisk pace, for 30 to 60 minutes most days of the week. If you can't get all of your exercise completed in one session, it's fine to break up your physical activity into several 10- to 15-minute sessions. You'll still get the same heart-health benefits. Some research has even shown that short bursts of very intensive exercise, such as a short run in the middle of a walk, may be an effective way to boost your metabolism. This may help you keep your weight down, which in turn, helps keep your heart healthy.

There are other small changes you can make to increase your physical activity throughout the day. You can take the stairs instead of the elevator, walk or ride your bicycle to do errands, or try some 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. This calculation 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 overweight if their waist measurement is greater than 35 inches (89 cm).

Losing even small amounts 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. 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, if a woman's heart symptoms are mainly caused by microvascular disease, angioplasty and stenting may not be the most effective treatment choice.

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.

The AHA guidelines do recommend that women of any age consider taking between 75 and 325 milligrams of aspirin daily if they have diabetes or if they already have heart disease. The AHA also recommends that women over 65 years can benefit from a daily 81-milligram aspirin 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.

Feb. 13, 2014 See more In-depth