October 15-21, 2023
Heart disease is the number one cause of death for women in the United States. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is one of the major risk factors related to heart disease. Blood pressure is considered high if it measures at or above 130/80 mmHg. Many people with high blood pressure do not have any symptoms, so regularly checking blood pressure is important to make sure it is in a healthy range.
NWBPAW 2023 Theme: Getting to the Heart of It All
A recent survey shows most women do not recognize that heart disease is their number one health threat. We know that many different factors contribute to blood pressure control and heart health.
The theme of NWBPAW 2023 - Getting to the Heart of It All - aims to bring awareness to the contributing factors that impact hypertension and heart health broadly.
Individual behaviors like being physical active and eating nutritious foods are important to maintain blood pressure control, however these are not the only factors that impact your risk. Health equity initiatives, mental health and chronic stress management, community engagement, and cardiac rapid response all play an important role in heart health, especially for underserved and minority communities. This week will shine a light on the broad range of factors affecting heart health for women of all ages.
During NWBPAW, we encourage you to understand the factors that may impact your blood pressure to then find resources for heart health that suit you and your lifestyle. Nearly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, meaning it's likely you or someone you love has the condition.
Daily Themes for NWBPAW 2023
Throughout the week, OWH will share messages to promote daily themes focused on blood pressure and heart health for women
Access the NWBPAW Fact Sheet here.
Know the Numbers: Women, Blood Pressure, and Heart Disease
Blood pressure is the force your blood puts on your artery walls. If this pressure is too high, called hypertension, it can damage your heart over time.
Blood pressure is measured with two numbers:
- Systolic pressure (the top number): the pressure on your arteries when your heart beats
- Diastolic pressure (the bottom number): the pressure on your arteries when your heart rests between beats.
A blood pressure of less than 120 systolic and less than 80 diastolic is considered normal and healthy by the American Heart Association.
Controlling high blood pressure is important because it is one of the major risk factors linked with heart disease, the leading cause of death for women in the US. High blood pressure affects nearly half of the women in the US, which includes 1 in every 5 women of reproductive age.
Many factors make a person more likely to develop high blood pressure including lifestyle habits, family history, and race or ethnicity so it is important to understand your individual hypertension risk. Even if you have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure, there are many steps you can take to lower your risk by adjusting lifestyle habits within your control.
Heart Healthy Habits
Many risk factors for developing high blood pressure are modifiable, which means you have the power to change them. Below are resources for heart healthy habits to help you prevent or manage high blood pressure.
The current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends adults get 150 minutes per week of moderate aerobic activity or “cardio” and engage in muscle-strengthening exercises twice per week.
Aerobic activity is anything that makes your heart best faster and can include things like walking, cycling, wheelchair basketball, gardening, or swimming. You can reach the recommended 150 minutes in any way you'd like, for example exercising for 30 minutes, five days per week. If this is more than you can do right now, simply do what you can. Even a few minutes per day of physical activity supports your heart health.
Muscle-strengthening activity is anything that makes your muscles contract and can include body weight exercises, weightlifting, or exercises with resistance bands. Muscle-strengthening exercises should involve all the major muscle groups including the arms, legs, core, lower back, and glutes.
You can use the Move Your Way activity planner to browse exercises, choose what works for you, and track your progress. Learn more about physical activity benefits and find helpful resources in our Getting Active section.
It is important to talk to your health care professional before starting any new physical activity programs.
Eating a heart-healthy diet helps prevent and manage high blood pressure. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan to help treat or prevent high blood pressure. The DASH eating plan offers flexible and balanced options which focus on
- Eating vegetables, fruits, and whole grains
- Including fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, chicken, beans, nuts, and vegetable oils
- Limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, like fatty meats, full-fat dairy products, and tropical oils such as coconut, palm kernel, and palm oils
- Limiting sugary beverages and sweets
Below are recipe and cooking resources for heart healthy eating:
- Healthy Eating on a Budget Cookbook
- Recipes for a Heart-Healthy Lifestyle
- A Week with the DASH Eating Plan
To learn more about proper nutrition and find helpful resources, visit our Healthy Eating section.
Before making any dietary changes, it is important to first talk to a dietician or your health care professional.
Smoking, Vaping, and Tobacco Use
Smoking, vaping, and other tobacco use harms nearly every part of the body including the heart. The chemical nicotine found in cigarettes, vapes, and other tobacco products like chewing tobacco, makes your heart beat faster and raises your blood pressure. Smoking and vaping also damages your blood vessels, increases your chance of developing blood clots, and lowers your tolerance for physical activity.
It is never too late to quit smoking, vaping, or using tobacco products. Your risk for developing heart disease is cut in half a year after quitting and continues to decline until your risk is as low as a non-smoker.
Check out these resources to better understand the heart health benefits of quitting and ways to quit smoking, vaping, and using tobacco for good.
- SmokeFree Women
- How Can I Quit Smoking?
- Benefits of Quitting Smoking
- Smoking and Heart Disease in Women
- How Can I Handle the Stress of Not Smoking?
Blood Pressure Monitoring
Checking your blood pressure regularly is important. There are many ways to get your blood pressure measured.
- Schedule an appointment with your health care professional. Most health insurance plans must cover women's preventive health services. If you don't have a primary health care provider, you can find a clinic near you by using the Find a Health Center tool.
- Many grocery stores and pharmacies offer blood pressure stations where you can check your blood pressure with no appointment needed. You can ask the pharmacist on duty to help you understand your numbers.
- Some people prefer to self-monitor their blood pressure. You can purchase a monitor to regularly measure your blood pressure at home and bring and concerns to your health care professional.
Managing Blood Pressure Before, During, and After Pregnancy
High blood pressure is common among pregnant women with an estimated 1 in every 12 to 17 women ages 18 to 44 experiencing hypertension. Black and Hispanic women as well as women living in rural areas experience higher rates of hypertension before and during pregnancy compared to women of other racial and ethnic groups and women living in urban areas.
Although common, pregnancy related high blood pressure management is extremely important to the health and safety of both the mother and the baby. Working with your health care professional is important when making changes to support your heart health in the peripartum time.
Working with a health care professional before you become pregnant can help set you up for success during and after pregnancy. Talk to your health care professional about current health concerns, medications you are currently taking, ways to stay physically active, eat heart healthy foods, and manage stress.
Attending all your health care appointments during pregnancy is important. Your health care professional will work with you to provide proper prenatal care, provide support with any medications you are taking, and monitor your blood pressure. Many women are encouraged to measure their blood pressure at home as well. If you notice higher than normal blood pressure readings, talk to your health care professional immediately as this may be a sign of preeclampsia, a serious high blood pressure condition that affects 1 in 25 pregnant women. Preeclampsia can quickly become a life threatening problem so it is important to understand of the signs and symptoms.
If you experienced high blood pressure during pregnancy, you are at risk of having other complications after giving birth. Pay attention to how you feel and tell your doctor or call 911 immediately if you are having any signs of preeclampsia as this condition can affect women up to 6 weeks after giving birth.
The Link Between Mental Health and Heart Health
Mental health and physical health are closely connected. People who experience chronic stress, depression, and anxiety for a long period of time are more likely to develop conditions like high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease. It is also common for people to develop mental health conditions like depression and anxiety after having an event like heart failure or a heart attack.
The connection between mental health and heart health is important for women to understand as depression is twice as common in women than men. Women experiencing depression are also two to three times more likely to develop heart disease than woman without depression.
Managing stress and mental health symptoms is important to maintain proper heart health. Working with a mental health professional can be helpful to learn how to destress and cope with emotions or seek medication. For many people, healthy habits and self-care activities can help manage these challenges as well.
Below are resources for stress management and mental health:
- Stress and Your Health
- Women and Stress
- Small Steps for the Heart, #FromTheHeart: De-stress with Deep Breaths
- 2023 Real Women - Ceirra's Story
- WomenHealth Cardiac Yoga
- Find Services and Treatment
How to Save a Life: CPR Basics for Rapid Response
Although 44% of women are living with heart disease and at risk for a cardiac event like a heart attack, women are less likely to receive bystander CPR in a public setting compared to men. This is likely due to the fear many people have of being accused of inappropriately touch a woman or causing injury if they were to help and the myth that women are less likely to have heart problems.
Understanding the number of women who experience heart-related medical emergencies and keeping up to date with CPR best practices is important to reducing the rapid response disparity that exists among women. If performed immediately, CPR and automated external defibrillator (AED) use before emergency medical professionals arrive can double or triple the chance of survival from a cardiac event.
The American Heart Association has introduced Hands-Only CPR which teaches bystanders CPR techniques which do not require mouth-to-mouth intervention. Hands-Only CPR has been shown to be as effective in the first few minutes as standard CPR for cardiac arrest in non-hospital settings. With two simple steps, Hands-Only CPR teaches bystanders to
- Call 911 if you see a person suddenly collapse
- Push hard and fast in the center of the chest to the beat of a familiar song that has 100 to 120 beats per minute
Staying up to date with rapid response techniques can and does save lives. For more information and to find a training course near you visit https://cpr.heart.org/en/.
NWBPAW Summit - Keeping Your Finger on the Pulse: Innovative Community Efforts to Support Women's Heart Health
Join OWH on Thursday October 19th at 12 p.m. ET for a virtual summit focused on innovative approaches to hypertension management and treatment through community initiatives to support women's heart health. During the summit, we'll hear from subject matter experts in the field, OWH Self-Management Blood Pressure (SMBP) Program Champions and Phase II awardees of the HHS Hypertension Innovator Award Competition. The summit is free to join and open to the public.
To register for summit, please visit: https://www.womenshealth.gov/nwbpaw/summit. We look forward to having you join us!
Health Equity and Heart Disease
Rates of hypertension and heart disease in the US are highest among underserved and minority groups.
- Individuals of low socioeconomic status, including those with lower income, less education, decreased access to resources, and those who are unemployed experience higher rates of heart disease and worse health outcomes.
- Individuals with disabilities experience higher rates of heart disease compared to those without disabilities and face barriers in accessing affordable and inclusive health programs and services.
- Those living in rural areas experience higher rates of heart disease, worse health outcomes, and decreased access to care compared to those living in urban areas.
- Non-Hispanic Black women experience the highest prevalence of heart disease among any racial or ethnic group with nearly 60% of women over the age of 20 being diagnosed.
- Research also shows the strong impact of racism and chronic stress on heart health for minority groups due to both individual-level discrimination as well as systemtic factors which often prevent access to healthy neighborhoods, high quality education, and access to affordable health care.
Several federal initiatives aim to decrease these disparities in heart health by addressing hypertension among racial and ethnic minority populations, reducing disparities, and preventing pregnancy-related deaths. In addition, advancing health equity is a major focus of Million Hearts® 2027 - a national initiative co-led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) that aims to prevent one million cardiovascular disease events in the next four years.
NWBPAW 2023 Weekly Recap and Sharing What Works
Sharing experiences and personal success stories can inspire others to take action. On the last day of NWBPAW, we encourage you to share what works for you and steps you have taken to improve your heart health. We will also revisit important messages and highlight actionable steps women can take to improve heart health.