Women in La Plata County are being sought to join a Tufts University research project to see if diet modification and low to moderate aerobic exercise can reduce their chance of heart attack or stroke.
The results could shed light on why heart attacks and strokes are the No. 1 killer of women in the United States.
In 2006, heart attacks and strokes killed 432,709 women in the U.S., compared with 269,819 who died from all cancers; its more than 10 times the number who died from breast cancer, said Wendy Rice, family and consumer science agent at the Colorado State University Extension office in Durango.
We cant stop death, Rice said. But we can make life more pleasant.
Rice said CSU Extension offices in Washington and Chaffee counties as well as La Plata are participating in the study, which is being done nationally. The research is led by Miriam Nelson, a professor at Tufts and director of the John Hancock Research Center on Physical Activity, Nutrition and Obesity Prevention there.
Weve tested the program narrowly in Kansas and Arkansas, Nelson said by telephone from the Medford, Mass., school. But given the obesity epidemic, we hope to have an impact on womens health across the country.
Most women have a hard time walking a mile, Nelson said. We hope they can learn to have a healthy body weight and to eat well.
Sara Folta, a Tufts co-investigator and project manager, said 31 states are participating in the research.
We want to provide women tools to make heart-healthy choices, Folta said. Symptoms of heart disease in women are more subtle and so are easier to brush off.
Symptoms such as nausea and fatigue arent typical of a heart attack. So often, when women end up in the hospital, the damage is done.
Rice, a registered dietitian, will lead a 12-week program focused on aerobic exercise and nutrition education. All program leaders took training so as to present uniform instruction, Rice said.
Participants must be more than 40 years old, exercise two times or fewer a week and have a body mass index a comparison of weight to height of 24 or more.
To calculate body mass index, or BMI, multiply your weight in pounds by 703 and divide by the square of your height in inches. A BMI of 25 to 30 is overweight. A BMI of more than 30 is considered obese.
Educating women about their potential for heart attack or stroke is important, Rice said, because they often dont get the same warning symptoms as men chest pain and they may experience symptoms as early as a month before the attack occurs.
Among symptoms women experience are undue fatigue, sleeplessness and shortness of breath, Rice said.
Women, before menopause, are protected by their hormone cycle, Carmen Ritz, manager of the Cardiac Rehab and Wellness Department at Mercy Regional Medical Center, said last week.
But within 10 years after menopause, the risk of heart attacks in women is equal to that of men, Ritz said, but with deadlier results.
A womans arteries are smaller than a mans, so a heart attack is more acute, Ritz said. Fewer women than men survive the acute onset.
Ritz said her department offers community and employer education sessions about heart disease. Mercy cardiologists Dr. Geni Miller and Dr. Catherine Winchester regularly speak to groups, she said.