Even though there has been an increase in awareness of heart disease in women over the past few decades, just under half of women in the United States are aware that it can be the number one killer. According to the CDC, heart disease is the number one cause of death for women —accounting for one in five of all female deaths. African American women and Caucasian women have the highest risk, but the threat affects all ethnic groups. Unfortunately, unlike many other diseases, heart disease can occur in women with no physical symptoms, which makes routine screening even more crucial.
Factors that increase the risk of heart disease in women
While there are multiple risk factors that increase the risk of heart disease in both men and women, such as cholesterol and obesity, there are risk factors that tend to affect more women than men disproportionately. These include:
- Mental stress
10 habits to reduce your risk of heart disease
The good news is, it is never too late to improve the health of your heart. By adopting some heart-healthy habits after 50, you can help keep your heart stronger and lower your risk of heart disease. Below are some habits to help take control of your heart health starting today. While many of these seem common sense, maybe if you’ve let a few habits lapse, this is a healthy reminder to pay attention to all 10.
1. Stop smoking
If you smoke, it is important to stop as soon as you can. Smoking increases your risk of heart disease and can exacerbate high blood pressure. If you are having problems quitting, don’t lose hope. Discuss your options with your doctor. There are now many available programs that can help you kick the habit once and for all.
2. Maintain a healthy weight
Obesity is one of the major risk factors that can increase your chances of heart disease. Discuss with your doctor what a healthy weight would be for your age, height and frame. Create a diet and exercise routine if you need to lose weight, making sure you make changes that will be easy to keep once the weight is lost. If you are already at a healthy weight, determine a diet and exercise program that can help you maintain your weight and ensure that you keep muscle tone.
3. Prioritize your mental health
More women than men are often affected by anxiety and depression that can increase their risk of developing heart disease. Unfortunately, mental health is often low on many people’s list of priorities. Your mental health can affect your physical health in many ways, including heart concerns. If you are feeling depressed or anxious, talk with your doctor about what options are available and whether therapy, medication, or a combination can help you get to where you need to be mentally.
4. Cut down on sodium
Almost everyone enjoys reaching for sodium-rich food, either as a form of comfort or a matter of convenience. The truth is, most people aren’t even aware of foods that have a significant amount of sodium, such as most packaged and processed foods. Train yourself to read the labels and determine what your daily sodium intake should be. Try to stay at or below that goal to start, opting for low sodium foods whenever possible. If you enjoy a lot of salt on your food, consider a salt substitute, or explore other seasonings with less sodium.
5. Get moving
Exercise is not only crucial to keeping a healthy weight but also to improve cardiovascular health. You don’t have to spend hours at the gym each day to enjoy the effects of exercise. All you need to do is get active three times a week for 30 minutes to an hour, performing exercise that gets your heart rate up. If problems are holding you back, such as joint issues, talk to a trainer or physical therapist to discuss exercises that can fit in with your specific needs.
6. Eat healthy fats
Food high in saturated fats can result in high cholesterol and overall poor heart health. These fats have also been linked to problems with memory and concentration as you age. While you don’t need to completely avoid red meat, butter, and other foods high in saturated fats, they should be kept to a minimum. Instead, fill most of your diet with healthy fats, which can improve your heart health.
7. Limit alcohol consumption
Over-consuming alcohol can lead to a number of health problems as you age. One such problem it can cause is elevated blood pressure. Also, most alcohol contains excess calories, which can aid in weight gain. Both extra weight and higher blood pressure can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. You do not need to eliminate alcohol completely, but it is best for women to limit their alcohol intake to one drink per day.
8. Get enough sleep
As you get older, you will notice that you can operate on significantly less sleep than you did in your younger years. Though insomnia is not a normal part of getting older and is often a sign that something is going on. At the age of 50, you should get at least six to seven hours of quality sleep a night and not feel worn out during the day. You may be wondering how a lack of sleep can lead to heart disease? Poor sleep can increase your risk of high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes, which are three of the leading risk factors of heart disease. Also, problems like sleep apnea can interrupt your sleep and cause daytime fatigue. Sleep apnea can lead to heart concerns and raise your risk of heart attack and should be treated as soon as possible.
9. Manage stress
High levels of stress have been linked to rates of higher blood pressure and higher cholesterol levels, which are both problems that can lead to an increased risk of heart disease. Also, when you are overly stressed, you are more likely to develop poor eating and exercising habits, leading to additional weight gain. Persistent and chronic stress leads to elevated levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, which can lead to poor physical health.
10. Have regular health screenings
One of the biggest ways that you can lower your risk of developing heart disease or suffering from a heart attack is by having regular health screenings and keeping regular doctor visits. If you have health risks such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol, you should be regularly monitored and follow any doctor advised treatment plans to improve the condition. Make sure to stay on top of heart screenings, testing to have the strength of your heart monitored and catch any minor problems before they become larger ones.
Take charge of your heart health by following the tips above to lower your risk of suffering a heart-related condition. With a healthy diet and exercise programs, regular screening, and a few simple lifestyle changes, you can lower your risk of heart disease and continue the path to a full and healthy life.