Once thought of as a disease that only affected men, women are now more likely than men to be underdiagnosed and undertreated for heart disease.
Some risk factors, such as your age or family history, cannot be changed. However, you can lower your odds of developing heart disease with just a few changes to your diet, exercise routine, and lifestyle. Use this guide to learn what you can do in your 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s to keep your heart in tip-top shape.
Get Educated. In your 20’s, heart health is probably the last thing on your mind. At this age you should begin educating yourself about heart health, and make lifestyle changes that will affect your long term health. Consult with your primary doctor to learn more about preventative care.
Stop Smoking. If you don’t smoke, that’s great! But if you do, you should stop immediately. Smoking more than doubles your risk for developing coronary heart disease. But if you quit now, within a year you’ll have cut your risks by 50 percent!
Know Your Family History. Does heart disease run in your family? Knowing your family’s medical history is important in assessing your risks for, not only heart disease, but other illnesses as well.
Develop Healthy Habits. Now is the time to begin implementing healthy changes to your lifestyle. If you’re not hitting the gym, begin exercising regularly. If you have an exercise routine in place, continue on it! Eat well balanced meals full of fruits, veggies, and whole grains, and you’ll feel great while lowering your risks.
Know your numbers. By your 30’s you should know what your levels are for your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. If you haven’t done so, make an appointment with your doctor to get a baseline exam on these critical numbers.
Lift heavy. Weights that is! By adding strength training to your workout you’ll lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, increase HDL (“good”) cholesterol, and lower your blood pressure. The benefits are maximized when cardio exercise is added.
Take time for yourself: With time being devoted to everything other than your health and wellness, it’s important to carve out time for yourself. Negative emotions such as depression, anxiety and anger have been shown to increase your chances of developing heart illnesses. Make sure to take the time to decompress, and ease the stresses of the day to have better overall health.
Rethink Your Birth Control. If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, have a family history of heart disease, or are a smoker, you should reconsider using hormonal contraceptives such as the pill and the patch. While this birth control won’t increase your risks of developing heart disease, they can exacerbate your risk factors. Consider using non-hormonal birth control instead.
Maintain & Manage Your Weight. Women who are in their 40’s tend to gain the most weight. At this age you should continue with, or begin, an exercise program. Being overweight raises your chances of developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol—all linked to heart disease. Speak with your doctor or a nutritionist if you would like to start a weight loss plan.
Be a Role Model. Children pick up on the habits of those around them, so it’s up to you to instill healthy habits in them at a young age. Stress the importance of eating well balanced meals, exercising regularly, and ways to manage stress. You’ll set them on the path of a lifetime of heart-healthy habits.
Get Enough Sleep. The average adult needs 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, and your heart needs a good nights rest as well. Sleeping less than 5 hours a night more than doubles your risk for high blood pressure, so make sure you get your Z’s!
Easy on the Coffee. While there isn’t a definitive link between caffeine and heart disease, this stimulant can increase stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline in the body. Higher stress levels have a negative affect on your heart and overall health. Consider drinking green tea instead of your usual java.
Continue to Monitor Your Numbers: You should continue to check your cholesterol levels every five years or annually if you have high cholesterol. Continue to monitor your blood pressure level, as well as your weight, and follow your doctor’s recommendations for optimum management.
Investigate Your Concerns. Be aggressive about looking into new or unusual symptoms that you may be having. Awareness for your body’s overall health at this age is critical to picking up on the early warning signs of heart disease.
Think Twice About Hormones. Some women choose to use hormone therapy to ease menopause symptoms, but you should carefully weigh the pros and cons before making your decision. Some studies have shown that hormone therapy may be harmful, and increase risks for heart disease. Do your research on benefits and risks of hormone therapy, and always consult with your doctor if you have any concerns.