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By Lorraine Pelley

Now that we have finished celebrating the annual heart day, during the heart month, it seems only fitting that I write a blog about what else – the heart. February is Heart month in Canada and the U.S. and it is the time when professionals in the medical community focus on raising public awareness about heart disease.

According to the Government of Canada Public Health Services web site, cardiovascular disease is currently the number two killer in Canada, killing more people over the age of 20 than all cancers combined. It is even more deadly in women. According to a recent report by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, a staggering 78 percent of women suffering from myocardial infarctions go undiagnosed and untreated.

Heart attacks occur when a blockage forms in an artery, blocking blood flow to part of the heart muscle. Signs and symptoms include profuse sweating, chest pain, heaviness or tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, light headedness, sudden fatigue, radiating pain into the jaw, neck, arms or back, palpitations, and flulike symptoms including nausea, vomiting, and indigestion. Denial is also a primary symptom and one of the biggest reasons people do not get prompt medical attention.

Myocardial infarctions in women differ greatly from men’s experiences.  Symptoms are usually more subtle and can occur a month or even a year before the actual incident. Women are more prone to feeling a different type of pain than men that radiates in the jaw, neck, chest, arms, and back. Some women even experience pain radiating into the legs.

Women can experience palpitations, profuse sweating, fatigue, restlessness, trouble sleeping, flu-like symptoms, light headed, dizzy, and heaviness or tightness in the chest that is more subtle those experienced by men.  Women are also more prone to asymptomatic cardio infarctions, meaning they have no symptoms at all. Sometimes a woman will feel a general unease; they feel something is “off” but cannot describe it. Because the attack occurs in the smaller vessels in women, they are not always easy to detect.

Whether you are male or female, as a Masters Athlete, cardiovascular conditions is not be a topic that is regularly addressed. Many people believe that if you eat healthy, exercise regularly, and live a stress free lifestyle, your risk is almost non-existent. But the reality is that there is still a significant risk of heart disease among healthy, active individuals.

There is no denying the importance of diet and exercise in preventing many life threatening conditions including cardiovascular disease. In fact, studies have proven that older active adults are less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke than inactive adults. The studies also show that cardiorespiratory fitness is so important, that obese active adults were at a lower risk of heart disease than lean, inactive adults.

But underlying conditions, genetic predisposition, high cholesterol, hypertension (high blood pressure), smoking, and stress can have adverse effects on the heart health, regardless how active and healthy you are. Many fit older athletes who have no previous incidents or risk factors are having myocardial infarctions every day and the numbers are increasing.

Another risk factor among some Masters Athletes is over exertion – pushing their physical limits far beyond what their body used to or capable of. Over exerting your body too fast and too hard can be dangerous to the heart health, especially if the mature athlete has an underlying or undiagnosed medical condition.

But the prognosis does not have to be all doom and gloom. Understanding your risks, seeing your doctor for regular check-ups, maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle, and recognizing the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease can significantly decrease your chances of having a heart attack or other cardiac related conditions.

Taking care of yourself is not just about physical activity and healthy eating, it is listening to what your body is trying to tell you, managing stresses, and communicating with your doctor openly and honestly to reduce all your risks. It takes a whole health approach to reduce your chances.

As February is Heart Month in North America, it is the perfect opportunity to make an appointment with your doctor and start a conversation about cardiovascular disease in Masters Athletes.

We would love to hear your experiences and stories about your fitness and health. Please feel free to leave your comments below or on one of our membership forums.

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