Heart attacks can no longer be thought of as just an “old man’s disease,” according to the American Heart Association (AHA). In late 2018, the AHA journal Circulation published a study showing that heart attacks are becoming more common in younger people—especially women. The takeaway here is that it’s never too early to start adopting heart-healthy habits. These dietary and lifestyle changes can help you prevent heart disease at every age and also help you reduce your risk for many other chronic illnesses.
In your 20s
Heart disease isn’t usually the result of a single behavior or incident. The things you do—or don’t do —throughout your life have a cumulative effect. Starting early will help you build a great foundation for preventing heart disease.
- Find a doctor and schedule regular wellness exams
- Exercise regularly—physical activity is one of the very best gifts you can give your heart
- Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke, which can increase your risk for heart disease and stroke by up to 30%, according to the Surgeon General
- Learn why women with these risk factors have a higher chance of having a heart attack than a man with the same risk factors
In your 30s
It’s stressful juggling a family and a career, and it’s easy to take your health for granted. Here’s how to avoid that pitfall:
- Model the importance of healthy living to your kids and involve them in fun fitness activities and healthy cooking. Learn how to raise your good cholesterol with heart-healthy, yummy foods.
- Share your family’s heart health history with your doctor if you haven’t already and focus on risk factors you can control, such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating right, exercising regularly and quitting smoking.
- Say “no” to stress, which over time can increase heart rate and blood pressure and damage artery walls. Try meditation, yoga, volunteering, meeting up with friends (whether that means virtually or socially distanced) or any activity that is relaxing and uplifting.
- Learn how to have a healthier heart just by breathing.
- Learn to identify the differences between a heart attack and a panic attack.
In Your 40s
If you realize that you haven’t made heart health a priority, don’t worry—now is a great time to start. Take it one day at a time and don’t let small setbacks discourage you.
- Keep an eye on the scale. Your metabolism may begin to slow down, so find out which combination of healthy eating and exercise work for you.
- Ask your doctor for a fasting blood glucose test before you turn 45—earlier if you’re overweight, diabetic or at risk for diabetes. This will be your baseline for future tests, which you should have every three years.
- Don’t take snoring lightly. It can be a sign of sleep apnea, which can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
- Learn why fatigue may signal heart problems in women (and men, too).
In Your 50s
Aging is one risk factor you can’t control, so be sure to take extra steps now to help prevent heart disease.
- Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, oily fish such as salmon and tuna (twice per week), nuts, legumes, seeds and healthy fats such as olive oil and avocado
- Keep your regularly scheduled checkups and follow your doctor’s treatment plan, including taking your medications and making appropriate lifestyle and diet changes
- Learn to recognize the differences between heartburn and a heart attack
- Learn the warning signs of heart attack and stroke
In your 60s and beyond
You’ll be better off if you’ve been managing your heart disease risks all along, but it’s never too late to start. Work with your doctor to come up with a plan that is doable.
- Have an ankle-brachial index test, which will measure the pulses in your feet to help diagnose peripheral artery disease (PAD), a type of cardiovascular disease in which plaque builds up in the leg arteries.
- Avoid gaining excess weight. Your body needs fewer calories as you age, so eat smaller portions of nutrient-dense foods and exercise regularly.
- Learn the warning signs of heart attack and stroke.
- Learn these surprising heart disease risk factors most people don’t know.
If you or someone else is experiencing the symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 or head to the nearest emergency room.
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How to prevent heart disease at every age was originally published on Take Care on July 15, 2020.