There’s a Connection Between Menopause & Heart Health – Find Out What It Means for You
Since February is Heart Month in Canada, why not use it as an opportunity to learn about the connection between women’s hormones and cardiovascular health? The truth is, women of reproductive age (i.e., before menopause) are better protected against heart attack & stroke compared to their male counterparts. However, once a woman enters menopause, her risk of heart disease increases – this is thought to be, in part, due to the reduction in estrogen (which has artery-protective effects and keeps blood vessels relaxed).
The truth of the matter is that heart disease is the #1 killer of women over age 55. But the good news is that our risks for this disease can be drastically reduced with the right diet & lifestyle choices. Let’s take a closer look at what women can start doing now to keep their hearts healthy.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise but regular, moderate intensity exercise can drastically lower your risk for heart disease. Remember, you don’t have to over-exert yourself in the gym for an hour to get benefit (in fact, that might not be best for your heart!). Do something you enjoy and do it regularly – ideally 30 minutes most days of the week. If you’re currently a non-exerciser, try a daily walk at lunch for 10-15 minutes and work your way up slowly from there!
Manage your blood pressure & cholesterol
Although these two health parameters are not the only risk factors to heart disease, they are important signs of stress on the body and heart. Getting annual blood work to track your cholesterol is a must.
Ideally, we want our ‘good’ cholesterol, HDL, to be ⅓ of the value of our total cholesterol. Since HDL is the helpful form of cholesterol, we want this value to remain above 1.3 mmol/L to keep us healthy. As for blood pressure, the target blood pressure for most adults is less than 120/80 mmHg but if you have diabetes or other health concerns, your target may be slightly higher. Either way, knowing your numbers is key to keeping these risk factors in check.
If you’re a non-smoker, congratulations! If you currently smoke, know this: smoking can both directly and indirectly increase your risk of heart disease. The good news is that after 1 year of quitting, your risk of a heart attack drops by 50%. And with so many options to support a successful smoking cessation plan, don’t be derailed by a previous unsuccessful attempt – it can take up to 30 attempts for some people before quitting for good. Remember to discuss all options with your medical doctor or naturopath.
Maintain a healthy weight
Recent research shows that if you’re carrying around extra weight, you may be putting yourself at greater risk of heart disease, even if you’re ‘metabolically healthy’ – this essentially means that you may not be on any medication or have diabetes but if your body mass index (BMI) is over 25, you may still be at risk compared to those with a healthy BMI (<25). If you’re not sure how to get started, consider starting your day with a metabolism-boosting protein smoothie, and a good quality fiber supplement. Slow and steady weight loss is best and for some women, losing even 10-15lbs can make a big difference and is actually quite a realistic goal.
There you have it – simple & effective ways to keep your heart healthy. Be sure to share this post with the women in your life. Together, we can reduce the impact of heart disease.
Dr. Laura Belus is a Naturopathic Doctor that focuses on detoxification and hormone balance for weight loss, stress management, and greater energy. She believes in making simple, yet powerful, changes to diet & lifestyle habits that create lasting results. She practices in Mississauga and Toronto.