Heart disease in women is currently a major women’s health issue in the Western world.
Quick Quiz: What is the leading cause of death among women?
A. Breast cancer
B. Bowel cancer
C. Heart disease
If you guessed C. you are correct. Not only is heart disease the biggest killer of women, but it’s way above and beyond all the other causes, in fact 4 times the rate of death among women from breast cancer!
Read on now to learn:
- The link between prolapse and heart disease in women
- How fitness exercise reduces your risk of heart disease
- The symptoms of heart attack in women
- How to exercise with a prolapse to reduce your risk of heart disease
The Link Between Prolapse and Heart Disease in Women
Physical inactivity increases the risk in heart disease in women however keeping up your fitness can be a real problem if you have a prolapse or after prolapse surgery:
- Some women with prolapse stop exercising altogether
- Others are put off physical activity because their prolapse symptoms become worse with exercise
- Returning to fitness exercise after prolapse surgery can cause anxiety and confusion about what exercise is safe and what to avoid.
We need to be very clear on this, prolapse itself doesn’t cause heart disease in women – the consequences of having a pelvic prolapse and feeling unable to exercise can affect your overall health including your heart health. Let’s face it – mature women are already at increased risk of heart disease owing to the effects of menopause on our bodies.
How Does Fitness Exercise Reduce Heart Disease in Women?
Regular cardiovascular fitness exercise can improve your heart health in a number of ways by:
- Lowering the bad cholesterol (LDL) that causes fatty deposits to line your arteries
- Decreasing your blood pressure which decreases strain on your heart
- Improving circulation which helps prevent clots in the heart
- Managing your body weight to reduce the work load on your heart.
Professor Noel Bairey Merz is Director Women’s Health Centre Cedar-Sinai Institute and Director of Research at the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Centre. Professor Merz says part of the problem is that women the symptoms of heart attack in women may be atypical and often go undetected. This contrasts with the symptoms of heart attack in men. This is part of the reason why more women now die of heart disease than men
What are the Symptoms of Heart Attack or Heart Disease in Women?
Dr Merz groups the symptoms of heart disease into 2 categories – typical and atypical symptoms. She says that the symptoms of heart disease in women may differ from those in men and this is part of the reason why heart disease in women goes undetected at times.
Typical symptoms of heart disease
- Chest pain or pressure*
*Only half of women present with this typical symptom compared with most men.
Atypical symptoms of heart disease
- Sense of fullness in the stomach
- Shortness of breath
- Jaw, arm or shoulder pain
- A feeling of overwhelming fatigue.
More women experience these atypical symptoms than men, however approximately 1/3 of men may experience these atypical symptoms too.
Dr Merz talks about heart disease in women and says that raising awareness of both typical and atypical symptoms of heart disease will save the lives of more women and men.
How to Exercise with Prolapse to Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease
Women with prolapse or after prolapse surgery may need help and encouragement towards safe prolapse exercises for their heart health despite their prolapse problems. It is indeed very feasible for many women with mild to moderate prolapse to perform effective exercise that reduces their risk of heart disease. Here’s how…
1. Choose Low Impact Fitness Exercises
Pelvic floor safe low impact exercises for prolapse are those exercises that involve at least one foot in contact with the ground throughout. Cardiovascular fitness exercises should ideally be regular and continuous so the less impact during exercise the better for your pelvic floor.
Types of low impact cardiovascular fitness exercise:
- Water-base exercise (swimming, water walking, aqua exercises)
- Dancing (low impact)
- Exercise equipment (treadmill, elliptical low resistance, stationary cycle)
2. Guidelines for Aerobic Fitness Exercise in Healthy Women
Following are the current ACSM guidelines1 for exercising to develop and maintain cardio respiratory fitness in healthy adults. In other words how much exercise you need to do and how often you need to do it to keep your heart healthy.
- Perform at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity aerobic exercise on 5 days or more (total at least 150 minutes or 2.5 hrs/week)
Or alternatively if you are pressed for time
- Perform at least 20 minutes of high intensity aerobic exercise on 3 days or more (total at least 75 minutes or 1.25hrs/week).
1. Exercise sessions can be made up of short sessions at least 10 minutes in duration, or one continuous longer session.
2. Even if you are unable to meet these minimum requirements you will still benefit from some physical aerobic activity.
3. Regularly progress the quantity of aerobic fitness exercise you perform as your fitness improves over time.
3. Pelvic Floor Exercises to Maximise Pelvic Floor Support
What do pelvic floor exercises have to do with heart health if anything?
One of the keys to staying active with a prolapse is to ensure your pelvic floor support. If your pelvic floor is in good shape, then so too will be your ability to exercise for your heart health with regular aerobic fitness exercise. This is how regular daily pelvic floor exercises can help you exercise effectively and in so doing, indirectly help you to minimise your risk of heart disease.
If you are living with a pelvic prolapse or if you’ve had previous prolapse surgery, regular cardiovascular exercise that incorporates appropriate pelvic floor safe low impact exercises for your body can help you reduce your risk of heart disease. You can help yourself and other women in your life by recognising and being alert to the atypical symptoms of heart disease in women that currently go unrecognised.
1ACSM Position Stand Quantity and Quality of Exercise for Developing and Maintaining Cardiorespiratory, Musculoskeletal, and Neuromotor Fitness in Apparently Healthy Adults: Guidance for Prescribing Exercise Garber, Carol Ewing Ph.D., FACSM, (Chair); Blissmer, Bryan Ph.D.; Deschenes, Michael R. PhD, FACSM; Franklin, Barry A. Ph.D., FACSM; Lamonte, Michael J. Ph.D., FACSM; Lee, I-Min M.D., Sc.D., FACSM; Nieman, David C. Ph.D., FACSM; Swain, David P. Ph.D., FACSM Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: July 2011 – Volume 43 – Issue 7 – pp 1334-1359
ABOUT THE AUTHOR, Michelle Kenway
Michelle Kenway is a Pelvic Floor Physiotherapist and author of Prolapse Exercises Inside Out. Prolapse Exercises is a complete exercise guide for women with prolapse and after prolapse surgery seeking to exercise safely and protect their pelvic floor.