According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both African American and Caucasian women. Despite the launch of numerous awareness initiatives, only a little more than half of women understand the risks. With understanding comes preventative measures. So let’s look at what heart disease is and what we (especially women) can do about it.
What is heart disease?
“Heart disease” includes a variety of conditions that affect the heart and the way it functions. Coronary artery disease, the most common, occurs when your arteries become clogged with a plaque buildup. These clogged areas make it harder for your heart to pump blood through your body. Coronary artery disease in turn leads to coronary heart disease.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of heart disease may include some or all of the following:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Chest pressure or tightness
- Pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back
- Nausea or vomiting
What can increase the risks?
It’s a given that everyone should watch their weight, but for some, that’s easier said than done. For some years, the rate of coronary artery disease was on the decline. But a study from the University of British Columbia in 2019, found that trend is reversing in younger people, and especially women. What may be causing this? Most likely, the rise in obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes in those groups.
We also know that smoking is bad for our overall health, but it’s also a risk factor for heart disease. Another risk factor is stress. Stress can be especially hard for women to correct, but it’s really important. According to the American Heart Association, chronic stress can lead to high blood pressure which in turn, may increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Are you doubly stressed?
In a study of women, work and family life, the Kaiser Family Foundation found that in recent years, family responsibilities have largely fallen on the woman in the household. Women are also a significant part of the workforce. So, they often face a double dose of stress, one from working at an outside job and another from working inside the home for their families. In too many cases, that stress becomes chronic. And as we just learned, that can create a BIG problem for their heart health.
What healthy habits should you adopt?
Women who work both at home for their families and at an outside job may not think they have time to develop healthier habits. But their lives may depend on it. How can women reduce their risk of developing heart disease?
- Quit smoking (if you do)
- Exercise regularly
- Manage your stress
- Get enough sleep
How can employers help encourage healthy habits?
In some workplaces women represent half or more of the work force. Employers can benefit from helping them manage their stress, which in turn can help reduce their incidence of heart disease. Good benefits plans should offer affordable access to a variety of health and wellness programs.
An employee wellness program may get staff members in the gym for coworker bonding and stress relief. By sponsoring a discount program to local, healthy restaurants, employees may eat more healthy lunches. And they could even take healthy, ready-made meals home to their families. They won’t have to cook when getting home after a long, tiring workday and eat well at the same time. It’s a win-win!
Do you find yourself laying awake at night stressing about work? Over-the-counter sleep aids, sleep masks, or sleep deprivation treatments may help you shut off your brain. And these may be eligible expenses if you have an FSA (Flexible Savings Account) or HSA (Health Savings Account).
Help to Stop Smoking
If you want to quit smoking and need help, you may be able to pay for some products/services with your FSA or an HSA. Programs to stop smoking, nicotine gum and patches are all eligible for reimbursement. Copays and deductibles for behavioral therapy appointments are eligible as well.
Women encounter many sources of stress. If they’re responsible for children, aging parents or both, for example, the high costs of care may cause serious anxiety. An employer-sponsored, tax-advantaged Dependent Care Assistance Program can help them pay for care services while saving on taxes. Employers can consider sponsoring a Student Loan Assistance Program for employees stressed over paying off the costs of their education. Or maybe chronic stress has created generalized anxiety and they need ongoing medication and/or therapy. In that case, an FSA, an HSA or an HRA (Health Reimbursement Arrangement) can help cover the costs.
A recent study by Bright Horizons found that 91% of working Americans think that working moms have a unique skill set when leading companies, and 89% think women leaders enable employees to be their best. Employers can help ensure that their female employees stay healthy, productive and in a position to take on leadership roles by encouraging healthy habits that contribute to good heart health.
DataPath, Inc. is a leading provider of technology solutions for cloud-based benefits administration.