At the time of year when so many of us are rebooting our nutrition and exercise habits, a new study finds that men and women have significant differences when it comes to what raises blood pressure—and treatments need to vary based on gender.
The differences in heart health may put women with high blood pressure at higher risk of vascular disease and may require different drugs to treat the problem, according to a study from Wake Forest University School of Medicine.
Traditionally, men and women have been offered the same health advice and the same medications for high blood pressure and heart disease. But "the impact of sex differences" on heart health needs more attention, the researchers say, because the study revealed hormonal and blood flow differences between men and women that affect blood pressure.
The health disparities don't stop there.
The incidence of heart disease among African-American women is even higher than among Caucasian women, according to the CDC, and studies have shown that lower-income Americans have an especially high risk of heart disease.
Disparities in access to care only worsen the situation for many, leaving economically disadvantaged minorities particularly vulnerable to illnesses that won't be treated.
Heart health is a vital issue for women, especially as they reach their 40s and 50s. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S., causing approximately one in every four female deaths.
But many women are too busy juggling work and family to give heart health enough attention, says Dr. Julie Maina, associate professor of health and human performance at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. Juggling of work and family often keeps women from focusing on their own well-being, causing long-term stress and making high blood pressure even more likely.
Exercise can help, and while walking the dog, shoveling snow, and cleaning the house are beneficial, they are lower-level forms of exercise. It's important to get the blood pumping and include strength and endurance workouts.
Eating well is another component—as is being a skeptical consumer.
"People need to be careful," says Maina, because food labels often make shaky nutritional promises. So, research these claims, and go with the foods (hello, oatmeal) that have proven heart health benefits.