Heart health isn’t just an issue for older adults to consider. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, and the number of cardiovascular risk factors among younger women is increasing.
To protect your long-term health, women of all ages should follow these eight tips to keep their hearts healthy.
Know your numbers. Keep track of your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels. The American Heart Association recommends receiving a blood cholesterol test at least every five years starting at age 20. Depending on your risk level, you'll want to regularly monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels. With these numbers, your doctor can help determine appropriate goals for you.
Know your risk factors. As many as 60 percent of women under 40 have at least one high-risk factor for heart disease, such as family history, elevated cholesterol, obesity or smoking.
Know the signs of a heart attack. If you started experiencing symptoms a heart attack, would you know it? More than 250,000 women die from heart attacks every year. Every woman needs to be able to recognize the symptoms of a heart attack, including:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea or dizziness
- Excessive sweating
- Pain outside the chest area
While these symptoms may have other causes, if you notice one or several of them, seek medical help. It's far better to be safe than sorry.
Focus on nutrition. A healthy diet consists of nutrients from fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, proteins and dairy. Limit sodium and saturated fats, processed foods and sugary drinks.
Manage your stress. Long-term stress increases your heart rate and blood pressure, causing damage to the artery walls. Pinpoint the source of your stress and find ways to keep it under control. Reducing stress at work and home can be as simple as finding time to do things you enjoy or practicing deep breathing techniques and daily meditation.
Exercise regularly. For a healthy heart, aim to get at least 150 minutes of exercise each week. Break it up into manageable chunks, and do what works best for you, whether that means doing 15 or 50 minutes of exercise at a time. Don’t overcomplicate it. Even brisk walking can help keep your heart strong and healthy.
Sleep. Duration and quality of sleep has a direct effect on your heart health. According to the American Heart Association, adults need six to eight hours of sleep each night. If you have trouble winding down at night, turn the TV and other electronics (cell phone, tablet, etc.) off at least an hour before bed and take a relaxing bath or read a book.
Be your own advocate. Ultimately, you are the one most affected by your health. Invest in your health by doing your homework, choosing a heart-healthy lifestyle, understanding your risk and advocating for your own health. Your doctor is an important ally, but you're in the driver's seat.
The good news is that in most cases, heart disease can be prevented with a healthy diet, regular exercise and stress management.
For more information on how you can take care of your heart at any age, visit a primary care provider at Goshen Health.