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44 million women in the United States are affected by heart disease and strokes. Yet, about 80 percent of all cardiovascular diseases can be prevented. Here are good habits that will help you protect your heart at any age.

Even if you are in perfect health, 24 year olds are at a 20 percent risk for cardiovascular disease. Annual physical exams along with cholesterol and blood pressure screenings are crucial to keep your body in-check.

If you are 24, exercise regularly and your body will thank you later. In fact, in six years, your ability to perform certain physical activities would have decreased due to lack of exercise such as running and aerobic weight training.

It’s vital to establish healthy eating habits during your 20’s because your diet during this time is likely to be maintained for the rest of your life.

Are you a smoker? Eliminate this habit now as it’s a surefire way to increase mortality and heart disease.

Since prevention is key, healthy eating is crucial to reduce heart risk. Therefore, at this age it’s more important than ever to monitor what you eat and be aware that a diet based on fast food and processed foods can have serious consequences to your health. Cooking at home lets you regain control over the ingredients you eat and guarantees the quality and nutritional value of your food.

Balancing work and caregiving obligations may tempt you to sleep less to do more. Don’t. Sleep is essential for a healthy heart and is integral in the healing and repairing of your heart and blood vessels. Aim for 7-9 hours per night to decrease risk of heart disease and stroke.

Did you know that sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease? A half hour of physical activity daily can help prevent the onset of heart disease. The options are endless - walk, cycle, swim, jog, dance or our favorite, practice aerobic exercises which have been shown to be exceedingly beneficial in preventing cardiovascular diseases. At the gym, stairmasters, steppers, and ellipticals provide a good aerobic exercise alternative.

If you are under 40 years of age, you get routine checkups if a family member suffered from cardiovascular disease at an early age (less than 55 for men and under 65 for women).

Generally, women at 40 experience reduced metabolism and gain weight more often. Manage your weight effectively through strength training and aerobics to raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol, and reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Interested in ramping up your workout intensity? If you are between 40-45 years old, it's recommended that you see a health specialist for a personalized assessment. 

At age 45, your risk for cardiovascular disease is 50 percent. Even without any symptoms, it’s well-recommended you get a cardiac exam every five years after 45. If you practice sports regularly, the exams should start at age 40-44.

Keep an eye on your glucose level, cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as for signs of inflammation such as C-reactive protein–if you have artery inflammation, you may have a greater risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke and peripheral arterial disease.

Women have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease after menopause (around 50 years old), due to the decrease in estrogen levels which generally serves as protection from cardiovascular disease in women. Therefore, you should talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of hormone treatments. Some doctors may also determine after a CT scan that there is a significant buildup of calcium in the coronary arteries which may indicate heart problem.

Much like in your 20’s, food plays a significant role in your life during your 50’s. Consider undergoing a Mediterranean diet as studies show that change can reduce the risk of heart disease. Many fruits, vegetables, fish and unrefined foods are the basis of the Mediterranean diet, thus being the secret for those who are far from diseases such as heart attacks and strokes.

Maintain your cardiovascular and strength training workouts and look to incorporate relaxation techniques in your daily routine to control stress and avoid increases in your blood pressure and cholesterol.

60 and older
In this stage of life ask your doctor about an ankle-brachial index (ABI) test, which measures the blood pressure in your ankles against the blood pressure in your arm. Sometimes physicians use ABI to predict adverse cardiovascular events independent of traditional cardiovascular risk factors.

There is no reason to stop exercising at any particular age. However, you should first visit your healthcare provider who can assess whether you are in good physical condition and able to exercise. This includes an analysis of your performance, and then, depending on your particular interest and possible limitations, recommendation of the type of physical activity you should pursue.

If you don't have major displacement problems, the simplest forms of exercising are walking on a treadmill and cycling on an exercise bike. Since injuries are most common in this age group, it’s better to exercise inside the house. However, if someone can accompany you, take a 20-minute walk about 3 times a week. If your joints are too stiff from walking, try swimming.

No matter what stage of life you are in, the team of professionals at Memorial Healthcare System will help you to take control of your heart health. Visit MHS for more information about preventing heart disease in women and options for treatment.

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