There are around 3.5 million women living with cardiovascular disease (including heart disease and stroke) in the UK and 28,000 women die from heart attacks each year in the UK – an average of 77 women per day – or 3 every hour.
A recent study shows that postmenopausal women with breast cancer are at greater risk for developing heart disease and these cardiovascular effects may occur more than 5 years after radiation exposure, with the risk persisting for up to 30 years.
As heart disease is as great a risk as breast cancer at menopause here are some ideas to stay healthy.
Walking back to heart health
Sorry couldn’t resist the Helen Shapiro reference as happiness and heart health are linked, see more later on.
Just 40 minutes three or four times a week (or 25 minutes of harder exercise, like jogging) can lower blood pressure, cholesterol, and body weight.
You don’t have to do it all at once. Even 10 minutes at a time is great for your heart and if you’re new to working out or just getting back into it, start slowly.
If overweight first talk to your doctor to see if you’re healthy enough for exercise.
Catch up with friends
Your friends can do your heart good — literally. Research has shown that being alone, or perhaps more importantly feeling alone, is as bad for your heart as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, or not exercising.
It’s not how often you see people that matters, but how connected you feel to others. So make some plans with an old friend or join a club and meet some new ones.
Eat more fruit and vegetables
The nutrients and fibre (and low calories and fat) they contain certainly make them heart-healthy.
But they also have antioxidants, which may help protect your cells from damage that can lead to diabetes and heart disease.
Try to work different colours of produce into your diet and increase the amount you eat by adding them to foods you enjoy. Put more vegetables on top of your pizza and add fruit to your morning cereal.
Nuts can help
The fibre, unsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids in nuts may help your body cut down on inflammation, “bad” LDL cholesterol, and plaque buildup in blood vessels — all linked to heart disease.
They also might protect against blood clots that cause strokes. The type of unsalted nuts you choose probably doesn’t matter much, but don’t overdo it — they have lots of calories.
About four small handfuls a week should give you protection, but not extra weight.
Serve more salmon
Two servings a week of fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, sardines, or tuna may help your heart health.
Scientists used to think it was the omega-3 fatty acids in the fish, but there may be other nutrients that make a difference, too.
Supplements and other foods with omega-3s like flaxseed, soybeans, and canola oil may not have the same benefits.
It’s not just a single daily workout that lowers your odds of heart disease, it’s how active you are all day long.
Even if you have an exercise routine, being a couch potato the rest of the day can still be harmful to your health.
Gardening, playing with your kids, walking every day, and even cleaning house are great ways to stay up and moving.
It’s not just exercise, it’s also a way to calm your mind and ease stress. That can lower heart rate and blood pressure and make you less anxious, which is all good for your heart.
If yoga’s not your thing, make time for other healthy ways to relax and cut stress, like tai chi, meditation, listening to music, or a hobby you enjoy.
Your body needs long periods of deep rest but at menopause that’s not always easy to achieve.
When you sleep your heart rate and blood pressure drop low for a while, which is key for heart health. If you always snooze less than 7 hours, your body may start to make chemicals that keep those things from happening.
Less sleep is also linked to inflammation and high blood sugar, which can also be bad for your heart.
Smoking raises blood pressure, makes it harder to exercise, and makes your blood more likely to clot, which can cause a stroke.
But your chances of having a heart attack go down just 24 hours after your last cigarette so to protect your heart cut down and give up as soon as you can.
Again at menopause libido is likely to take a hit but you’re less likely to have heart disease if you have sex a couple of times a week, compared to once a month.
Scientists don’t know exactly why. The sex itself may help protect the heart, or it may be that healthier people have more sex.
Watch your weight
Extra pounds raise your odds of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, all linked to heart disease.
Don’t rely on fad diets or supplements to slim down, as you are looking for a lifelong change in eating habits that help you maintain the optimum weight.
Exercise and the right amount of healthy foods are the best ways to keep a healthy weight.
Stop sitting so much
Heart disease is more likely if you sit all day. And it’s not only because you burn fewer calories — it’s the actual sitting that seems to do it.
It may change the way your body processes sugar and fat, which are closely linked to heart disease. Try to break up long periods of sitting at work and at home.
Stand up and move around at least once an hour.
Get regular health checks
Your doctor can see if your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are in danger of damaging your heart and blood vessels. The earlier you find those problems, the quicker you can start to treat them.
They may want to test you for diabetes as well and if you have any of these conditions, can suggest lifestyle changes and medication to protect your heart.
These are very simple ways to be more heart protective and reduce your cardiovascular risk. Check your hormone balance too as oestrogen dominance is linked to increased risk for strokes and heart disease as well as breast cancer.
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