Heart disease risk rises for everyone as they age, but for women symptoms can become more apparent after the onset of menopause. Heart disease is the #1 cause of death for women in the United States.
Heart health impacts men and women differently. After menopause, which occurs at an average age of 51, women’s blood pressure tends to increase. Menopause is associated with a two-fold increase in risk of hypertension (high blood pressure). Hypertension rates are higher in women than men over the age of 65. In fact, the NHANES study indicates that 81% of women age ≥75 have hypertension versus 73% of comparably aged men. Plus, studies that have followed women over a stretch of time have found that those women with early menopause (45 and younger) have more cardiovascular health issues later on than those who have menopause closer to the normal age (around 50).
According to the American Heart Association, a decrease in estrogen levels may be a factor in heart disease increase among post-menopausal women. Estrogen is believed to have a positive effect on the inner layer of artery wall, helping to keep blood vessels flexible so they can relax and expand during blood flow. As our estrogen levels start to decline, our risk for high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol and belly fat increase. All these things are not good for the heart.
Know your risk factors.
9 out of 10 women have at least one risk factor for heart disease. Risk factors include:
high blood pressure
a family history of heart disease
Obesity also increases the risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and pre-diabetes, which increases the risk of heart disease. Note: With the exception of family history, you can modify the other risk factors to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Know the signs of a heart attack
The signs of a heart attack are different for women and men. While the most common symptom for both women and men is chest discomfort, you can have a heart attack without experiencing chest pain or pressure. Women are more likely to have other symptoms such as back pain, jaw pain, shortness of breath, indigestion, and nausea or vomiting.
Heavy ache in your chest or back between your shoulder blades
Sharp pain in your upper body
Shortness of breath
Breaking out in a cold sweat
Unusual or unexplained tiredness
Feeling dizzy or light-headed
Feeling sick to your stomach
Women who follow a Mediterranean diet are less likely to develop diabetes, obesity, and heart disease, and also have a reduced risk of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s as they age. In one study of over 78,000 women, showed that those who followed a Mediterranean-style diet enjoyed a 24% lower risk of heart disease and a 26% lower risk of stroke than those who ate a Western diet high in processed foods, meat, sweets, and sugary beverages. Additionally, when the Mediterranean dieters combined healthy eating with regular exercise, they boasted an outstanding 83% risk reduction.
The largest trial to date, randomly assigned 772 asymptomatic people at risk for heart disease to follow one of the three diets: a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra virgin olive oil, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with nuts, or a low-fat diet. Three years later, both Mediterranean diets reduced the patients’ risk of heart attack and stroke, improved blood glucose levels, stabilized blood pressure, and lowered cholesterol levels. The patients also had much less cognitive decline than those on the low-fat diet.
Women should aim for at least 2 hours of physical activity each week to prevent heart disease. Walking, biking, dancing or swimming — activities that use larger muscles at low resistance — are good aerobic exercises.
You can also take supplements to assist with heart health. Here are some highly rated ones on Amazon:
Herbs & Spices
Herbs and Spices have heart-healthy properties and can add wonderful flavor to your food and drinks.
Garlic: Widely used in cooking; some studies have shown that garlic may positively affect heart health, regulate cholesterol, and lower blood pressure.
Turmeric: Has been associated with reduced total cholesterol.
Coriander: May protect your heart by lowering blood pressure and LDL (bad cholesterol). Studies indicate that a spice-rich diet can lower your risk of disease. Coriander can be found as a fresh herb and its seeds as a spice.
Cinnamon: Is associated with improved insulin resistance and decreased LDL. Cinnamon can be an excellent substitute for sugar in coffee.
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