Few Women Realize Heart Disease Top Killer

A lot of women don't know it, but heart disease their greatest enemy. It is the No. 1 cause of death for women, and more women died of heart disease than men in the last year.

Former Entertainment Tonight host Julie Moran wants women to understand that they are at great risk of developing heart disease. Moran became all too aware of its dangers after losing her grandmother and one of her best friends to the disease.

Moran is the new spokesperson for the American Heart Association and their "Simple Solutions" program, which gives women the basics on how to keep their hearts healthy.

Initially, it shocked her that heart attack and stroke kill more American women than any other illness. She had thought that breast or ovarian cancer were the top killers for women.

"Women know about getting mammograms and Pap smears, but aren't really aware of getting their hearts tested," Moran said. In a 2000 survey, only 8 percent of women identified heart disease and stroke as their No. 1 health threat.

ABCNEWS' Dr. Nancy Snyderman said doctors don't do a good job when it comes to screening women for heart disease. "It's the No. 1 killer in the United States, but we have relegated it to being a man's disease because in the past we've seen it as something that gets men in their 40s and women get it later," she said.

Half a million women died last year of heart attacks, and more women than men die of heart attacks every year, according to the American Heart Association.

Moran's friend, Mary Frann, a television and movie actress most recognized for her role as Bob Newhart's wife on the series Newhart, died of heart disease in her early 50s. Frann had a heart murmur, but never ever thought she would die of a heart attack, Moran said. Moran's grandmother died of heart disease 16 years ago.

Diet and Exercise Not Priorities

One of the reasons for the figures is that for women, diet and exercise are no longer the top priorities, Moran said. Recent polls suggest that women are interested in spending more time with their families, finding balance in their lives and making each day count.

A recent American Heart Association survey found that 75 percent of women do not make healthful choices when it comes to diet and exercise. Physical inactivity was more prevalent among women than men. Only 31 percent of women who were polled said they exercise a minimum of three times a week for 30 minutes or more. Nearly 52 million women, aged 20 and older, are considered overweight.

Here are some tips from AHA's "Simple Solutions" campaign:

1. Buy the deepest color of ground beef you can find. The darker the red, the less fat it contains.

2. Use a push mower instead of a riding lawn mover. Rake leaves or grass to move and exercise your arms and shoulders. The lawn will look great, and you will have accomplished your daily workout.

3. When eating out at a restaurant, follow these tips: Before eating pizza or other fatty foods, blot up the oil with a paper napkin. Eat half of an oversized portion or split an entrée.

4. Take the stairs whenever you can. Each flight burns 10 calories! (A flight is the equivalent of approximately 10 to12 steps) Take advantage of the steps to do ankle lifts and calf stretches, too.

5. Try adding a handful of walnuts (2 oz., 1/4 cup, 8 halves, 4 walnuts) and low-fat dressing to your salad in place of cheese, high-fat salad dressing and croutons. Research has shown that walnuts contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which as part of a healthy diet may help reduce your risk of heart disease.

6. If you spend a lot of time talking on a cordless phone, make it count! While talking stretch your arms and legs; do arm curls with a can of food in your hand; do squats or lunges or "wall sit."

7. Keep high-fat, high-calorie food packages out of sight in the pantry. Put raw vegetables and fruits in front in the refrigerator or on the counter so that's what you see first.

8. Learn to play again! Play chase with the dog or take him for a walk. Take the kids to the park for a game of tag, push them on the swings or skip rope. Badminton, volleyball and swimming will get you and your family moving and having fun together.

9. Snack tips: Eat healthy, crunchy snacks such as carrots, celery, walnuts (about 8 halves or 1/4 cup) and rice cakes that provide a quick pick-me-up instead of chips, cookies and sodas. Research has shown that walnuts contain Omega-3 fatty acids, which as part of a healthy diet may help reduce your risk of heart disease. Hard and soft pretzels are great low-fat snacks. (When buying a soft pretzel ask for "no butter" and scrape off most of the salt.)

10. Walk! Don't drive! Reduce "drive through" activities. Park and walk into the dry cleaner, bank or pharmacy.