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American Indian Women And Heart Disease

How Are We Different?

American Indians and Alaska Natives have a very high risk of heart disease. They also die from heart disease at younger ages than other racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Native women have high rates of diabetes, overweight and obesity, and high blood pressure, which are factors that increase heart disease risk. What’s more, many American Indian and Alaska Native women smoke cigarettes and/or are physically inactive — both which also raise heart disease risk.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native adults are 1.2 times as likely as White adults to have heart disease.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native adults were 1.6 times as likely as White adults to be obese.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native adults were 1.3 times as likely as White adults to have high blood pressure.
  • American Indian/Alaska Native adults are 1.4 times as likely as White adults to be current cigarette smokers.
  • Among American Indian or Alaska Natives only ages 18 and older, 55.5% of women report no physical activity.

What Can I Do?

There's good news too: You can take action and lower your chance of developing heart disease and its risk factors. In fact, women can lower their heart disease risk by as much as 82% just by leading a healthy lifestyle. This fact sheet gives steps you can take to protect your heart health.

Follow these guidelines:

  • Keep a healthy weight. Overweight and obesity are risk factors for heart disease. Asian-Americans need to be aware that their heart disease risk goes up with even a small amount of weight gain. Ask your doctor what a healthy weight is for you.
  • Make physical activity a habit. Health benefits are gained by doing the following each week:
    • 2 hours and 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or,
    • 1 hour and 15 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or,
    • A combination of moderate and vigorous aerobic activity and,
    • Muscle-strengthening activities on 2 or more days of the week
  • Eat heart-healthy foods. Eat whole-grain foods, vegetables, and fruit. Choose lean meats and low-fat cheese and dairy products. Limit foods that have lots of saturated fat, like butter, whole milk, baked goods, ice cream, fatty meats, and cheese.
  • Know your numbers. Ask your doctor to check your blood pressure, cholesterol (total, HDL, LDL, and triglycerides) and blood glucose (sugar). Follow your doctor’s orders to keep your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood glucose levels under control.
  • Don't smoke. If you smoke, try to quit.

Questions To Ask My Doctor
  1. What is my risk for heart disease?
  2. What is my blood pressure? What does it mean for me, and what do I need to do about it?
  3. What are my cholesterol numbers? (These include total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, and triglycerides, a type of fat found in the blood and food.) What do they mean for me, and what do I need to do about them?
  4. What are my "body mass index" (BMI) and waist measurement? Do they mean that I need to lose weight for my health?
  5. What is my blood sugar level, and does it mean I'm at risk for diabetes? If so, what do I need to do about it?
  6. What other screening tests for heart disease do I need?
  7. What can you do to help me quit smoking?
  8. How much physical activity do I need to help protect my heart?
  9. What's a heart healthy eating plan for me?
  10. How can I tell if I may be having a heart attack?

Be honest about your concerns and get all your questions answered. Make sure you understand what the doctor tells you.

For more information about disparities facing American Indian women, visit, a website with user-friendly health information about disease prevention, detection and control for people of color.

Last updated September 30, 2010