Although exercise and a healthy diet are important at any age, there are specific factors for women to be aware of at each stage in life. Duke cardiologist Radha Kachhy, MD, offers the following tips for keeping your heart in top shape through the years.
In Your 30s and 40s
- Pay attention to prevention. Establish a healthy lifestyle by prioritizing exercise and choosing a Mediterranean diet that is plant-based, increasing fruits and vegetables, and reducing processed meats, refined carbohydrates, and sugars.
- Research your risk. Do you know if you are at risk for heart disease? Look into the risk factors and talk to your doctor. Here’s one that few people know: preeclampsia. If you had this during or after pregnancy, it may be an early warning sign for cardiovascular disease.
- Get your cholesterol checked at least once in your 30s. If it is high, start the conversation with your doctor about what that means. New research shows the longer you have high cholesterol, the higher your risk for heart disease.
- If you smoke, quit—at any age.
In Your 50s and Older
- Expect differences after menopause. “The change” is a milestone in many ways, including heart health. Your cholesterol levels may change and your blood pressure may go up. During this time, you might need to begin medication to control cholesterol or high blood pressure (80% of women in their 80s have high blood pressure).
- Talk to your doctor about other ways to control these risk factors. Have a sense for what’s normal and what’s not. If you sweat profusely during and after exertion, it could be related to a hot flash or your heart. Likewise, heart pounding is common in menopause but could also signal something going on with your heart. If you are concerned, talk to your doctor.
- Keep moving. Your activity level may drop as you age, so refocus your commitment. This doesn’t mean you have to join a gym. Find fun and convenient ways (because you’re busy!) to fit in exercise.