Heart disease risk rises for everyone as they age, but for women symptoms can become more evident after the onset of menopause.
Menopause does not cause cardiovascular diseases. However, certain riskfactors increase around the time of menopause and a high-fat diet, smoking or other unhealthy habits begun earlier in life can also take a toll, said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, a cardiologist and an American Heart Association volunteer.
Menopause is a natural phase of a woman’s life cycle but heart disease isn’t. So it is important to evaluate your diet, exercise, and lifestyle to identify habits that you are doing that are opening up the opportunity for heart disease to creep in.
For most women the onset of menopause occurs around the age of 54.
The American Heart Association says that more than one in three female adults has some form of cardiovascular disease. An overall increase in heart attacks among women is seen about 10 years after menopause. Heart disease is the leading killer of women(link opens in new window).
Estrogen Levels May Play a Role
A decline in the natural hormone estrogen 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. That means they can relax and expand to accommodate blood flow.
Despite the benefits of estrogen, the American Heart Association recommends against using postmenopausal hormone therapy to reduce the risk of coronary heart disease or stroke because some studies have shown it appears to not reduce the risk.
Estrogen decline isn’t the only reason women face a higher cardiovascular disease risk after reaching menopause. Our stress levels, and diet in combination when not correct can lead to our body producing smaller LDL particle size which at a smaller size could increase the risk of heart attacks.
In addition around the age of 50 in women our CO Q10 levels start to decrease which can lead to an increase in blood pressure levels. Other changes at this age include LDL cholesterol increasing, while the good cholesterol HDL starts decreasing while Triglycerides a type of fat in the blood also increases.
Strive for Heart Health with Diet & Exercise
If you’ve followed a healthy lifestyle and continue doing so at menopause, your risk for heart disease and stroke is lower. Family history also contributes to your risk. Also their are some studies conducted outside of the United States that have shown a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease when hormone replacement therapy was used.
Women should take care of their heart through regular exercise and good nutrition.
Eliminating unhealthy habits like smoking, which may contribute to early menopause, increase the risk of blood clots, decrease the flexibility of arteries and lower the levels of HDL cholesterol, Dr. Goldberg said.
To get the nutrients you need, the American Heart Association recommends eating a dietary pattern that emphasizes:
- fruits, vegetables,
- whole grains,
- low-fat dairy products,
- poultry, fish and nuts,
- while limiting red meat and sugary foods and beverages.
Women should aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity each week to help prevent heart disease, and 300 minutes or more weekly for a significant weight loss program, depending on individual needs like walking, cycling, or dancing activities that use larger muscles at low resistance — are good aerobic exercises, said Dr. Goldberg.
We advise that you find a sport that you enjoy and try consistently doing 3 days a week. Set reminders in your phone to get up and take a 15 minute break for walking while your at work, or park farther away so you can get a few more steps in by habit. Most importantly find something you enjoy doing for exercise or recruit a friend to do it with you.
However you exercise make sure you have fun doing it as your are more likely to think about doing it again if it was a fun experience.