Menopause: how to protect your heart health as you age
Menopause is a completely normal and natural phase in a woman’s life that usually begins around the age of 54. Unfortunately, along with this change comes an increased risk of heart disease.
According to The American Heart Association,1 it’s not that menopause causes cardiovascular disease, but certain risk factors increase around the time of menopause. Those risks, coupled with a family history of heart disease, a high-fat diet, smoking or other unhealthy habits that may have started earlier in a woman’s life, can take their toll on a post-menopausal heart. In fact, studies have shown an increase in heart attacks among women about 10 years after experiencing menopause.2
Research is still ongoing, but two reasons for this increased risk of heart disease are:
- A drop in estrogen levels. Estrogen helps keep arteries flexible, so when it declines during menopause, it can affect artery health. It’s important to note that the American Heart Association doesn’t recommend postmenopausal hormone therapies because it doesn’t appear to change the risk of heart disease.
- An increase in bad cholesterol and blood pressure during menopause. Blood pressure begins to rise after menopause, and LDL cholesterol (“bad cholesterol”) levels can rise, while HDL (“good cholesterol”) can lower or stay the same. Groups of fatty cells called Triglycerides within blood vessels also go up during and after menopause.
How to keep your heart healthy during and after menopause
It’s common sense advice that we have hopefully been following for years, but it’s never too late to change bad habits and live a healthier life. The American Heart Association recommends the following heart-healthy strategies for protecting your heart at menopause:
- Get regular exercise. Women should aim for 150 minutes of physical activity every week to prevent heart disease, and an hour daily for a weight loss program, depending upon your needs. Walking, cycling, dancing and swimming are all great – and fun – ways to get your body moving.
- Stop smoking. Smoking can contribute to early menopause, increase the risk of blood clots, decrease the flexibility of arteries and lower the levels of good cholesterol in your body.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet. Put the emphasis on fruits and vegetables (at least 4.5 cups a day), whole grains (6 to 8 servings), low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, and nuts while limiting red meat, and sugary foods and beverages.
Go Red for Women3 also recommends paying attention to your mental health. Women sometimes suffer from depression after menopause, and depression is linked to an almost doubled risk of stroke in middle-aged women. Stay socially connected, monitor your moods and talk to your doctor if you feel you need help coping with the changes you’re experiencing.
Seeing your doctor regularly is another way to help keep your heart healthy. It’s important to have your cholesterol, blood pressure, blood glucose levels, waist circumference and weight checked regularly.4 Talk to your doctor about how often you need these screenings based on your personal medical history.
We live in a youth-obsessed culture – but remember, studies have shown that people report being happiest once they reach the age of 65, so protect your heart and keep it healthy so you can enjoy all the many blessings still to come.5
For more information on menopause and heart health visit The American Heart Association (http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/More/MyHeartandStrokeNews/Menopause-and-Heart-Disease_UCM_448432_Article.jsp#.W0efdn7_q18).
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