Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, causing about 1 in 4 deaths. How can we avoid being another statistic? Well, since the risk of heart disease increases as you age, it's never too early to adopt heart-healthy habits, for instance, when you're in your 20s. The younger you start living a healthy lifestyle, the better you will better in the long run. When you choose healthy behaviors, you can lower your heart disease risk while also preventing other severe chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and some kinds of cancer. Follow this decade-by-decade guide to help keep your heart healthy for life!
Guide to 20s
When you're in your 20s, it's important for you to pay attention to your numbers, especially if you have any risk factors. Conditions like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes can all increase your heart disease risk and begin when you're in your twenties. Crazy to think about, right? Since high blood pressure has no symptoms, it's your job to have your blood pressure checked at least once every two years. If your blood pressure is over 120/80, you might want to get it checked more frequently. Also, it's time to have your cholesterol levels tested with a fasting lipoprotein profile. If it is high, talk to your primary care provider about a follow-up plan and make a plan to bring it down. If all is well with the test, repeat it every four to six years, or more often based on your primary care provider's recommendations. Next up, your body mass index. If it is higher than 25 or if you have other diabetes risk factors, it's best to get screened for diabetes now. Diabetes risk factors include:
- High blood pressure.
- High cholesterol.
- An inactive lifestyle.
- A family history of diabetes.
- Have a hormone disorder called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
Lastly, regular physical activity! The sooner you make exercise a part of your routine, the more likely you will be able to stick to it for the long haul. Exercise has many benefits, as you know. For example, it strengthens your heart, improves circulation, helps with weight control, and lowers your cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and blood pressure. It is recommended that you get at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, whether it's fast walking, jogging, biking, or dancing, at least five days per week, and muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week.
Guide to 30s
Don't smoke! Quitting smoking can lower your heart disease risk as much as, or more than, you would if you took aspirin, statins, beta-blockers, or ACE inhibitors. Did you know smoking, even just one cigarette, can have negative effects on your heart? It's true. If you do smoke, use all available resources to stop. That's what they are there for! And don't say, "You can't do it," because it is doable, and it's been done. Now that you are in your 30s, you might be trying to have a baby. If you are facing any problems getting pregnant, you need to inform your doctor. Those with gestational diabetes or preeclampsia can raise their risk of having diabetes or high blood pressure later on. If you experienced or are experiencing either during pregnancy, talk it over with your doctor. Lastly, an effortless habit, make sure to floss every day! Floss? But why? Because gum disease may increase your chances of developing heart disease by nearly 50%… WOW! Be sure to brush your teeth twice a day, floss once a day, and visit your dentist for a cleaning every six months. Easy peasy!
Guide to 40s
Here's to 40! Now is the time to check your stress levels. All of your responsibilities like your career, young kids, aging parents, or anything else can be a lot, more so with the COVID-19 pandemic. That's why it's vital for your health and well-being to leave a little time here and there for R&R, rest and relaxation. Don't let stress pile up and get the best of you. Stress can lead to poor health choices like overeating junk food, skipping your workout, or skimping out on sleep, all that can increase your risk for heart disease too. Learning coping mechanisms that are right for you is essential. We know it's not easy, but try your best to leave some time for yourself in your already busy schedule. It can be something as simple as going for a walk during your lunch hour or making a cup of coffee and reading your favorite book. Additionally, when you're in your 40s, you need to test your blood glucose levels, and if you haven't already, you need to get tested for type 2 diabetes when you're 45. Suppose your levels are normal, then you are good to retest at least every three years.
Guide to 50s
50 and fabulous! Re-examining your diet is an excellent idea at any age, but especially in your fifties. Have you ever tried eating like the Greeks? Some people have found that a Mediterranean diet can cut your heart disease risk by almost 30%! Think about it, simply adding plenty of plant-based foods, whole grains, beans, other legumes, nuts, healthy fats, moderate amounts of fish, lean poultry, and dairy products to your diet can help lower your risk. Next, let's see some gratitude! It's easy to focus on all the negative happening in the world, as well as all the aches and pains of aging that are now happening. Try to spend some time each day to share with family and friends at least three things you are thankful for. Now, let's talk about sleep. Do you get enough ZZZs? Similar to eating and drinking water, sleep is an essential function for our bodies to survive. Sleep is vital for storing memories in the brain, nerve cells communicate while you sleep, and sleep is suggested to remove toxins from the brain that build up during the day while you are awake. When you don't get enough sleep, research has shown an increase in risk for other disorders and health issues, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, obesity, and even cancer. Of course, getting a good night's rest is easier said than done. So, try preparing your body for sleep with a wind-down routine, keep consistent bedtimes and wake times, and stay away from blue light before bed. Lastly, get assessed, especially if you're a woman around menopause. Things like your cholesterol profile, sugar levels, and other issues can change during this time, putting you at a different risk level for heart disease. Your primary care provider may change some of your strategies for preventive therapies post-menopause.
Guide to 60s
You're 60! Look at you, go, go! When you're sixty, it's best to reset your social life. When they get older, many people isolate themselves, and there's nothing positive about that. It's imperative to stay connected to your friends and your family. It's been said that having strong social ties is linked to a longer and happier life, and research has shown that lack of social relationships is also associated with a greater risk of heart disease and stroke. As you can probably guess, loneliness can be stressful and lead to inactivity and inadequate coping mechanisms like drinking and smoking. Different ways to stay productive include playing a game of cards with friends, signing up for a cooking class, learning a foreign language, or volunteering at your local soup kitchen. Next is to ask your doctor about a C-reactive protein test (CRP) or a coronary artery calcium (CAC) score. These kinds of tests can be valuable at times when you unsure if there is an issue that requires treatment or not. This gives some peace of mind.
Guide to 70s+
Don't think, "Ugh, the 70s," think turning 70 is like turning 21 in celsius! When you're in your 70s (and beyond), keeping an even closer eye on your risk factors is vital. As you age, your risk of getting a heart attack increases, so it's extremely important to continue tracking your numbers, including your weight, cholesterol, blood pressure, and fasting blood sugars. You should also regularly visit your doctor to ensure you remain on the right path for continued heart health. Be aware of any possible symptoms so you can spot them instantly. On average, a woman will have her first heart attack around 70-years-old. But the key to surviving is getting the necessary help in time. If you experience any of the following, call 911 quickly.
- Any chest pain or discomfort. Heart attack pain often strikes in the center of the chest and lasts for more than a few minutes. It may even go away and come back. Some describe it as uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, or fullness.
- Any pain or discomfort in other body areas like one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
- If you have shortness of breath.
- Or if you break out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.