Lowering the risk of heart disease at any age

Heart disease remains the number one cause of death for American women. No matter what your age, there are steps you can take to help lower your risk of heart disease. Here are some tips from the National Institutes of Health:

In Your Teens: Don't begin smoking. About 80 percent of smokers start before the age of 18. Try different physical activities to find the ones you enjoy. Physical activity drops sharply as girls become teenagers. Learn about healthy eating and ask your doctor about maintaining a healthy BMI (body mass index).

In Your Twenties: If you do smoke, stop! You will reduce your chances of heart disease, stroke and heart attack. As an added plus, your skin and hair will look and smell better.

Make activity a part of your everyday life. If you are not getting at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week, start now - you will reap the benefits of this healthy habit for years to come. Explore different heart-healthy recipes.

In Your Thirties: Find ways to reduce your stress. Stress can have negative effects on all of your body's systems, including your cardiovascular health. Really kick the habit! We'll say it again because it's that important. If you smoke, stop. Your risk for heart disease will be cut in half in one year and, after 15 years smoke-free, your risk for heart disease will be the same as a woman who never smoked. Have open communication with your doctor about your lifestyle, exercise and eating habits and your family history for heart disease.

In Your Forties: Monitor your cholesterol. Beginning at age 45, more women than men have a total cholesterol that is borderline high or higher. Pay as much attention to what you put in your body as what you put on it. While it's OK to try a new serum or lotion to look young and healthy, as your metabolism slows, be just as aware about what you're eating and drinking.

In Your Fifties: Heart disease rates are two to three times higher for postmenopausal women than for those of the same age who have not gone through menopause. Talk to your doctor to consider all your options regarding hormone therapy Keep an eye on your blood pressure. The lifetime risk of developing high blood pressure (130/90 or higher) for women aged 55 is about 90 percent.

In Your Sixties and Beyond: Try to stay in tune with your body. Tell your health care provider if you have any concerns or notice changes. While some women over age 65 have obvious heart disease, there are many who have hardening of the arteries with no apparent symptoms. Maintain an open relationship with your healthcare provider.

Every year, more than 372,000 women aged 65 and older have a heart attack. If you think you might be having a heart attack, don't hesitate to call 911 for help. The average age for women to have a first heart attack is about 70 - and women are more likely than men to die within a few weeks of a heart attack.

Here at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, we're asking our employees and visitors to wear red on Friday, Feb. 1, National Wear Red Day. If you're not coming to the hospital, wear red anyway. Send a picture of yourself wearing red to our Facebook page and dedicate your submission to someone you know who's been affected by heart disease. You'll be eligible to win a heart healthy gift basket.

Patty Ryan is a registered nurse in the Cardiac Rehabilitation Department at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center. "Health Matters" is a weekly column meant to educate readers about their personal health, public health matters, and public policy as it affects health care. To learn more about SVHC, visit svhealthcare.org.


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