- The Washington Times - Monday, February 2, 2004

First lady Laura Bush yesterday said she has started lifting weights and taking long walks to protect her heart after learning that heart disease is the “number 1 killer of women.”

In interviews yesterday on network morning talk shows and at a news briefing in the Red Room of the White House, Mrs. Bush said like two-thirds of American women, she previously did not realize that heart disease is women’s greatest risk.

“I was shocked. I assumed, like I think a lot of women do, that cancer was the number 1 killer of women. But, in fact, heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined,” the first lady told CNN Washington correspondent John King.

Mrs. Bush, the president and others at the briefing were promoting February as American Heart Month and the start of the American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women Campaign,” in which people are wearing red as a reminder of the threat that heart disease poses for women.

Asked on NBC’s “Today” show what she is doing to keep her heart healthy, Mrs. Bush said she is “taking long walks” on a treadmill in the White House gym and has “begun weight lifting.”

Stressing that heart disease is “preventable,” Mrs. Bush noted that about 30 percent of women who have heart disease are obese. She urged women to watch their weight, eat a “heart-healthy diet” and “get just a little bit of exercise” in order to keep their hearts strong and healthy.

Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a New York cardiologist who took part in the briefing, later commended Mrs. Bush’s selection of exercises to help keep her heart strong.

“It’s really important for women to do strength training, but it’s important to start out using light resistance and then get stronger,” Dr. Goldberg, a spokeswoman for the American Heart Association and author of the book, “Women Are Not Small Men,” said in an interview. Her book deals with the cardiovascular risk in women and describes appropriate exercises.

“A woman loses 1 percent of her muscle mass yearly after menopause,” and weight training can help rebuild that, she said. She also noted that such exercises “also help reduce body mass.”

Dr. Goldberg said heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, killing about 500,000 people yearly. About 250,000 men and about the same number of women die of heart disease annually, making it the top killer of both sexes.

“During the last 40 years, we’ve seen a great reduction in cardiac deaths in men. But in the past 20 years, we’ve seen increases in women,” Dr. Goldberg said.

She pointed out that the death rate from heart disease in women 50 or younger is twice that of similarly aged men.

Women too often “think of heart disease as a man’s disease,” prompting them to delay treatment, Mrs. Bush said on NBC.

“If they start to suffer any symptoms of a heart attack, quite often they don’t go to an emergency room … they suffer more damage from a heart attack because they seek help later,” she said.

The symptoms of a heart attack might differ in men and women. In a man, there’s likely to be pain in the chest or an arm. In women, symptoms of heart disease may include jaw, neck or back pain; shortness of breath; sweating; indigestion; and unexplained fatigue, according to Mrs. Bush and Dr. Goldberg.

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