No matter what age you are, it’s never too early or too late to begin taking charge of your heart health.
“Many people think that preventing heart disease is something that starts later in life. But leading a heart-healthy lifestyle from your childhood, teenage, and early adult years can go far in preventing the onset of heart disease, stroke, and heart attack,” explains Andrea Becker, MD, cardiologist, Lankenau Heart Institute at Lankenau Medical Center, part of Main Line Health.
In your 20s
Although you may think the decisions you’re making now won’t affect your health, your early practicing healthy habits now can make it easier to keep up with them in the future. Take steps to improve your heart health during this time, including:
- Quitting smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke exposure.
- Limiting alcohol intake to one drink per day. Remember, one drink is equivalent to 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof spirits, 1 fluid ounce of 100-proof spirits, 4 fluid ounces of wine, or 12 fluid ounces of beer.
- Talking to your OB/GYN about birth control options. Some oral contraceptives can cause an increase in blood pressure, so understand the risks and benefits of each option.
- Knowing your family’s health history and your numbers, including BMI, blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and triglycerides.
- Building a foundation for healthy habits, like regular exercise and a healthy diet.
“Your twenties are a good opportunity to set a precedent for the healthy habits that you want to follow for your whole life,” says Dr. Becker. “Preventing heart disease starts by practicing these healthy habits from a young age.”
In your 30s
During their thirties, many women are juggling priorities like family, friends, and blossoming careers. But carving out time for your health is essential, too.
In addition to continuing the healthy habits you developed in your twenties, make sure you’re finding time to cope with the stress of a busy lifestyle. Whether it’s a quick coffee date with a friend or meditation on a quiet weekend afternoon, finding time to relax is important for your mental and physical health.
And, as your family grows over the next few years, be sure to ask your OB/GYN about what you should know about keeping your heart disease risk under control during pregnancy. Factors like gestational diabetes and high blood pressure can increase your risk for heart problems after baby.
In your 40s
As you age, it becomes harder to keep healthy habits going strong. Lucky for you, you started them early. Focus on maintaining the habits you started at an early age, including a healthy diet and exercise routine and finding time for stress-relief tactics like meditation or yoga.
This is also a good time to develop a relationship with your primary care doctor, especially if it’s been a year or more since your last visit.
In your 50s
For most women, this means the beginning of menopause and, as a result, an increased heart disease risk.
“Most women’s heart disease risk increases after menopause, which is why it’s important to make a commitment to a healthy lifestyle and the management of their risk factors during and after menopause,” says Dr. Becker.
This means taking battling weight gain, exercising regularly, including strength training, and talking to your OB/GYN about the risks and benefits of menopause hormone therapy, which many women pursue to help control the symptoms of menopause, including night sweats and hot flashes.
In your 60s and beyond
Regular appointments with your primary care doctor and a cardiologist, if necessary, can help you stay healthy and prevent heart disease in your sixties and beyond.
“By this time, women should ‘know their numbers’ and be familiar with the numerical values that indicate their heart disease risk, including their blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, body mass index, and triglycerides,” says Dr. Becker. “Knowing these numbers, and having a clear understanding of how they can affect their heart health, is a powerful tool.”
And although continuing to follow a heart-healthy diet and exercise routine can decrease your heart disease risk, it can also decrease your risk for other health conditions, too, like diabetes and certain cancers.
While a healthy lifestyle can go a long way in preventing heart disease, Dr. Becker cautions women to not be afraid of medication to help keep risk factors under control, including statins.
At the Lankenau Heart Institute, we know that not all hearts are created equal. Our cardiac experts understand the unique heart health needs of women, and we’re proud to feature a team of 13 female cardiologists. Visit our website to learn more or make an appointment with a Lankenau Heart Institute cardiologist.