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Breaking Glass

When it comes to matters of the heart, businesswomen should take better care of their health

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Rachana Kulkarni is recognized by her peers — Castle Connolly, New Jersey Monthly, Inside New Jersey and NJ Top Docs — as one of the Best Cardiologists and Best Doctors for Women in New Jersey.

As chairman of the Department of Medicine and chief of cardiology at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital in Somerset, executive partner of Medicor Cardiology in Hillsborough and Bridgewater, member of the medical staff at Morristown Medical Center, and physician to Gov. Chris Christie, Kulkarni’s built quite a name for herself.

From arriving at Medicor Cardiology in 1998 following her fellowship and residency at UMDNJ-RWJ Medical School in New Brunswick, to being recognized this year for her exemplary leadership by the Executive Women of New Jersey, Kulkarni’s emphasis on preventative and non-invasive cardiology has helped her build a successful and widely publicized career in medicine.

So just in time for Valentine’s Day, I reached out to Kulkarni for some advice on how busy businesswomen can take better care of their health — especially when it comes to matters of the heart.

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NJBIZ: Why is it crucial that women, especially, be educated on heart health?

Rachana Kulkarni: At present, heart disease is the number one killer for women — approximately 43 million women suffer from heart disease in the U.S.

In spite of these statistics, most women still consider heart disease to be a “man’s problem.” But the fact is that every year since 1984, more women have died of cardiovascular disease than men.

NJBIZ: What are some other myths regarding heart disease that women tend to believe?

RK: Women still think that breast cancer should be their biggest fear, but the fact is heart disease claims more women than all cancers combined! Roughly 1 in 31 women will die of cancer, but 1 in 3 women will die of heart disease.

Women also tend to think that heart disease only affects older women, but statistics show that 50 percent of heart attacks occur in women under the age of 55. Increased incidence is of course linked to smoking, use of hormonal birth control methods, sedentary lifestyles and a higher rate of diabetes, but young women are still very much at risk.

NJBIZ: Why are businesswomen such a crucial — and tough — demographic to reach out to?

RK: Driven businesswomen tend to multitask and have busy schedules — while they need such traits to be successful in the business world, these traits often cause them significant stress and increase their risk for heart disease.

When you’re running around with a list of tasks to accomplish all at once, your health becomes an easy thing to ignore. Multitasking makes it easy for businesswomen to forget this important task itself. 

NJBIZ: Women are often too busy taking care of others to take care of themselves. What recommendations can you make to reduce stress, eat healthier and find the time to exercise?

RK: If possible, start your day with 15 to 20 minutes of exercise to get your metabolism going. I like to get exercise out of the way before my work day even starts.

Even when we have a very busy day, working through lunch is not the best option. Please, take a break for 30 minutes at lunch time to walk and decompress — you will find yourself rejuvenated. If possible, bring your lunch with you, or make heart healthy choices when ordering out, such as fruits and vegetables.

Entertaining is also a big part of the business world. While dining out, make smart choices. Avoid red meat, get grilled instead of fried, get dressing on the side and avoid creamy sauces. Portion control is another big thing to avoid unnecessary calories—using a food diary can help manage this.

Lastly, be sure to prioritize and manage expectations in order to keep stress in check.

NJBIZ: Why are women different from men when it comes to heart health?

RK: Even today, the majority of women play a bigger role in raising their family and running their household. As a result, they constantly feel as if they are working.

When they are at work they might feel guilty, and therefore try to overcompensate.

And when a working woman comes home tired, she is likely to immerse herself in the house work in order to be a good parent and wife. As a result, she may feel as if she has no breather — she comes home from one job just to start another.

There was an interesting study that noted how when a man gets home from work, his pulse and blood pressure goes down as his level of stress decreases, but when a woman comes home from work, her pulse and blood pressure go up.

NJBIZ: What are some things companies can do to help employees focus more on their health and less on stress?

RK: The availability of a gym or walking paths at work is great. Companies can also organize walking programs at lunch, or conduct “lunch and learn” seminars about healthy lifestyle and management tips for cardiovascular health.

NJBIZ: What are the warning signs of a heart attack that are specific to women?

RK: Symptoms of heart attacks in women can be subtle and unusual. Instead of typical chest pain, women may have shortness of breath, fatigue, indigestion and nausea as present symptoms.

This is why heart disease in women can often be overlooked by both patients and physicians, which can lead to delays in treatment and complicated reoccurrences in women.

A study showed that 64 percent of women will die from their first heart attack having reported no prior symptoms. So busy women need to take the time to listen to their bodies — if your heart is being over worked, it may already be trying to tell you.

NJBIZ: As a businesswoman and a doctor, how do you take care of yourself? What can women learn from you?

RK: I try to practice what I preach, but I won’t say it’s easy!

I try to exercise four or five days a week, eat healthy, keep a food diary and pay attention to my numbers — blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugars, etc.

A businesswoman is a pillar both for her company and her family, so she needs to take care of herself just as well as she takes care of others.

Partnering with your doctor is always a good first step in maintaining your heart health, too!


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