Risk factors such as chronic stress, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, diabetes and obesity are affecting younger and younger women
Q: My cousin Ellen, who's only 48, had a heart attack. What makes a younger woman vulnerable? I'd like to dodge that bullet. — Katie R., Santa Rosa, California
A: We used to think women weren't at risk for heart disease until after menopause. But these days, risk factors such as chronic stress, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, diabetes and obesity are affecting younger and younger women and can cancel out the "estrogen advantage."
New research published in the European Heart Journal - Quality of Care and Clinical Outcomes, found that since 2010 the death rate from heart disease in U.S. women under age 65 has gone up. And the 2018 Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities study found that while the risk of heart attack is going down for older folks, those 35-54 are seeing an increase, especially women. High blood pressure and type 2 diabetes are major contributing factors.
Fortunately, most risk factors can be reduced with upgrades to nutrition, physical activity, sleep habits and stress management. Medications can also help control high blood pressure, cholesterol levels and diabetes. That's why everyone should have a baseline heart health checkup to assess their risk.
How to Stay Prepared
- Get your cholesterol levels checked at age 20. If it's normal, then check it every four to six years. If HDL is low or LDL is high, check it every six months to see if medication (statins) and/or lifestyle changes (better nutrition, more exercise) are helping. Over 20 and never been checked? Do it now.
- At any age, if you're overweight or obese, get a fasting blood glucose test to check for diabetes or pre-diabetes. Even if you don't have either, consult a nutritionist so you can dodge that bullet in the future.
- If you're plagued with chronic stress, get 150-300 minutes of exercise weekly and do 10 minutes of mindful meditation morning and night.