What’s the best way to ensure you have a healthy heart when you’re in your 50s and 60s?
“Begin thinking about it when you’re 20,” says Chileshe Nkonde-Price, MD, MRCP, director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Program at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. “Most women don’t realize they begin setting the tone for their heart health well before they are even thinking about things like heart attacks or strokes.”
Fortunately, there are things you can do to improve your heart health at every stage of life:
Heart Health in Your 20s
“This is the time when women should start adopting healthy habits that they maintain for years to come,” says Nkonde-Price. “You can start by having annual physical exams. These help establish baseline information about your body."
Other recommendations include:
- Don’t smoke
- Be mindful of how much sitting you do
- Maintain a healthy diet
- Limit alcohol intake
- Get at least 2.5 hours a week of moderate-intensity exercise
Heart Health in Your 30s
The 30's are a busy time in a woman's life. Oftentimes the focus is on others - having children, taking care of a new family, a career or all of the above. It is an important time to take a step back, reevaluate and make sure that you are taking care of yourself, too.
“The child-bearing years are the time to be aware of conditions in pregnancy that can affect long-term heart risk,” says Nkonde-Price. “Women who develop preeclampsia during pregnancy are four times more likely to develop high blood pressure later in life, and preeclampsia doubles the risk of heart attack and stroke 10 to 15 years later.”
Nkonde-Price advises women to avoid excess weight gain during pregnancy, as it also increases future risk of heart attack and stroke.
“I know that it’s difficult to lose baby weight,” Nkonde-Price adds, “but, as the saying goes, it takes 9 months to go up and 9 months to come down.”
Heart Health in Your 40s
In this stage of life, women often struggle to keep up with the demands of their family, work, and personal life, leading many of them to burn the midnight oil or sacrifice sleep altogether.
“Recent studies among women in their mid-40s showed that women who sleep less than six hours per night are twice as likely to develop a heart attack or stroke compared to those who get between six and eight hours a night,” she says. “Instead of squeezing in tasks late at night, I advise that women save them for the morning and go to bed at a reasonable hour.”
Heart Health in Your 50s
By their early 50s, most women are entering menopause, a time when their bodies go through many changes and symptoms of heart disease can begin to appear.
“Many women consider hormone replacement therapy to help manage hot-flashes and other symptoms of menopause,” says Nkonde-Price. “My recommendation for women who are having a tough time with menopause – but worry about how hormone therapy will affect their heart – is to know their personal risk.”
She advises that women see a cardiologist to have their heart risk factors, such as family history, diabetes and blood pressure, evaluated and monitored. This personal risk can help you make a more informed decision about hormone replacement therapy.
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