At this point in your life, one of the most important things to focus on is health. Clearly, the quality of life is impacted by our health. Even if you have a healthy diet and lifestyle, age puts you at higher risk for a heart attack.
Studies indicate that heart attacks in women occur 10 years after menopause, with the average age of a first heart attack at 70. Because many of the symptoms of heart disease are not recognizable, women often don’t think they have a problem. Importantly, heart disease affects women differently than men. Signs of a heart attack include dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, back or jaw pain or discomfort in the chest or back of arms.
Even if you eat healthy most of the time, you may notice your weight creeping up. As we age and our metabolism slows down, our bodies require fewer calories. Given these changes, you’ll need to cut back on portion size.
You should also be aware of the sodium and saturated content of foods. Most packaged goods and condiments contain high amounts of sodium. Limit your sodium intake to 2,000 mg or less per day. Limit your saturated fat intake to 7% of your daily caloric intake (about 16 grams per day). Full fat dairy and high fat cuts of meat have a high saturated fat content.
A heart healthy diet features the following:
Complex Carbs: Choose a wide variety of colored fruits and vegetables to obtain vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber. Not getting enough of these foods? Cover gaps in your diet with VitaMedica’s Phyto-5 complex.
Lean Protein: Opt for leans meats such as fish and poultry. Limit your consumption of red meat which contains more saturated fat and be sure to select lean cuts like filet. Add legumes and beans to your meals to enhance their protein content.
Unsaturated Fats: Select non-fat or low-fat dairy products (yogurt, milk, cheese) to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Use olive oil in salads and low-heat cooking. Fill the gaps in your diet with an Omega-3 supplement like VitaMedica’s Flax Seed Oil and Super EPA/DHA Fish Oil.
At this point in your life, you may have a bit more time to work out. But, it can be hard to start especially if you haven’t been working out in years. Enlist the support of a spouse, friend or personal trainer to get you motivated.
You may be walking which is a great non-impact exercise. However, it is important to add strength training a few times a week. In physically inactive adults, after the age of 30, the rate of muscle loss is about 3-5% per decade and a similar decline in muscle strength. Loss of muscle mass usually starts in women in their 40s and accelerates in their mid-70s. Known as sarcopenia (“poverty of flesh”), this loss of muscle mass, strength and function as we age is associated with the absence of exercise in sufficient intensity or volume. Resistance exercise can mitigate this muscle loss over time.
You should aim for at least 150 minutes/week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes/week of vigorous exercise.
Most likely if you haven’t started smoking at this point in your life, you’re not likely to start. However, if you need to quit, seek help.
Know Your Numbers
If you haven’t already done so, you should get your numbers checked. You may need to take medications to counter high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels.
Here are the key numbers along with targets:
- Blood pressure < 120 mg/dL (systolic); < 80mg/dL (diastolic)
- Fasting glucose < 100 mg/dL
- Total cholesterol < 200 mg/dL
- LDL or “bad” cholesterol < 130 mg/dL
- HDL or “good” cholesterol > 40 mg/dL men and > 50 mg/dL women
- Triglycerides < 150 mg/dL
If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, now is the time to modify your diet. Increase your fiber intake by eating more fruits and vegetables and adding flax seed meal to your diet. At the same time, cut back on your trans-fats and saturated fat intake. Both of these measures can improve your cholesterol levels.
In older women, elevated cholesterol levels are not as accurate at predicting risk for stroke as high triglyceride levels. A recent study which analyzed data from women enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), found that postmenopausal women with the highest level of triglycerides at baseline, were nearly twice as likely to have an ischemic stroke (blood clots that obstruct blood vessels to the brain) as women with the lowest levels.
Women have a lower rate of high blood pressure than men up to age 45. From 45-64 years, women have about the same rate as men. But, after 65, women’s rate of high blood pressure exceeds that of men. About a third of adult women have high-blood pressure but in black women, almost half have this condition.
Controlling blood pressure is important as women with hypertension are 3.5 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than women with normal blood pressure.
A proven way to lower your blood pressure is by following the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. This heart healthy diet, promoted by the National Heart, Lung & Blood Institute (NHLBI), emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods and low-fat dairy products. The DASH diet is low in saturated and total fat and cholesterol and limits red meat, sweets, and extra sugars.
Know Your Family History
If you have a close relative that has had a heart attack or stroke, you may be more at risk for developing heart disease. Your risk increases if your father or brother had heart disease before age 55 or if your mother or sister was diagnosed with heart disease before 65 years of age.
For more information, refer to our article, Top 5 Tips for a Healthy Heart.