Wait, I’m still young! Do I really have to be thinking about heart disease right now? According to the Mayo Clinic, yes, yes, yes! The best way to avoid heart illness in the future is to live a healthy lifestyle today, and there are things you can do at every age to make living healthy a little easier. According to Dr. Geetha Raghuveer, pediatric professor at the University of Missouri, clogged arteries and high cholesterol, two of the most common precursors to heart disease, can actually develop in childhood. Thus it is never too soon to start thinking about how you can ensure a healthy heart.
Some of the most beneficial lifestyle changes you can implement to reduce your risk for heart illness include exercising, eating right, abstaining from smoking and seeing your doctor for regular check-ups. It is also important to be aware of any family history of heart conditions; if this is the case, you may want to take extra precautions. Although you want to take similar preventive measures throughout your life, different age groups face various obstacles, and it is important to be aware of what you can do to overcome them.
In your 20s
Many women consider their 20s to be the most exciting time of their lives; it is where they really get to know themselves. Unfortunately, it is also a time when many of us are not completely settled yet, so financial instability can lead to problems. Fortunately, there are many ways you can practice heart-healthy habits on a budget.
Of course, money is saved by not smoking, so that is a major incentive for this preventive measure. It is commonly believed, however, that a healthy diet is more expensive than munching on junk food throughout the day. Luckily, there is hope! Focusing on whole grains, which lower cholesterol, and other heart-healthy foods including spinach, grapes and oranges, will reduce your risk of heart illness.
Being young is a beautiful thing, because your body is in its prime. Your 20s are a perfect time to get yourself in the habit of regular exercise. Being physically active can result in lower blood pressure and cholesterol, keeping your cardiovascular system in an optimal state. In addition, exercise causes your body to release endorphins, which reduce stress, another risk factor for heart illness.
Another obstacle young women may face in preventing heart illness is an unwillingness to visit the doctor. It is important to remember that feeling healthy does not necessarily mean there are no underlying issues or predisposing factors that may lead to heart illness later in life. According to the American Heart Association, monitoring things like blood pressure, waist circumference, heart rate and cholesterol early on is important because it provides baseline data; regular visits mean a change in any of these numbers can be detected immediately.
In your 30s
Although you may be a little more financially stable in your 30s, a new world of obstacles may have opened up. Most women in their 30s are busy tending to their families, husbands and careers. All this can lead to a lack of time and stress, two things definitely making it difficult to focus on your heart. However, it is important to be a little selfish at times and remember that your health should be a top priority, too.
There are several things you can do in your 30s to reduce stress and keep your heart healthy at the same time. Studies found that long-term exercise can reduce stress and anxiety by increasing levels of amino acids in the brain that calm excited nerve impulses. In your 30s, you can make exercise a family affair by biking, hiking or playing sports games. Getting adequate sleep and weight training can also reduce stress and your risk of heart disease.
It is important to remember that eating healthy is still a must in preventing heart illness, even in your 30s. You might be thinking this is impossible with young, sugar-craving kids in the house, but there are things you can do. Reducing sugar and increasing fiber will help in keeping cholesterol low. It is easy to get your family involved, because there are plenty of health foods that also satisfy your cravings. For example, baked apples, yogurt and even a small piece of angel food cake can satisfy your sweet tooth, and are just some of the many options the American Heart Association recommends for healthy snacking.
In your 40s
Now that you are in your 40s, your life is probably more settled and predictable. Some of the main obstacles to protecting your heart are a slowing metabolism, declining levels of the hormone estrogen and ensuring you visit the doctor to get tests that are recommended as you age.
The American Heart Association states that the slowing metabolism in aging women can lead to weight gain, which can contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, all of which put you at a higher risk for developing heart disease. Paying close attention to what you are eating and finding a workout routine that you genuinely enjoy will help you overcome this obstacle. Joining a walking or hiking club or taking your pet on long walks are great ways to stay active in your 40s.
Unfortunately, your 40s are a time when your estrogen levels go down, which is harmful because estrogen protects your arteries from hardening. Although the doctor may sometimes prescribe estrogen supplements, the best thing you can do to combat the lowering levels is to really focus on all other preventive measures, like abstaining from smoking and exercising, to compensate for the loss.
Keeping up with your doctor visits is especially important in your 40s. By age 45, it is recommended that you get a fasting blood glucose test done to serve as a baseline for subsequent tests that should be done every three years. Since high glucose levels predispose you to heart illness, it is vital that the simple test be done. Diabetes screenings and blood pressure and cholesterol monitoring are also important.
Wherever you are in life and whatever age you may be, there is always something you can do to increase your chances for a bright, healthy future.
More on heart health
8 Ways to prevent a heart attack
5 Best exercises to improve heart health
5 Heart-healthy habits for your family