How To Keep Your Heart Stronger At Every Age

Heart with EKG printoutAs yet another birthday rolls around, you probably worry more about the visible parts of your body, and not so much the ones you can’t see, like your heart. Blacks still suffer and die more from heart-related diseases, and recent research has found that each decade of your life is a crossroads, with new health concerns to worry about as you continue along. Be aware of what you need to know and ask your doctor about – to better enjoy that path that you’re on.

Your 20s & 30s: Get Smart

You know that fries and burger do not qualify as heart-healthy, as well as all the other fat-filled artery-clogging fare that you’re probably tempted with every day. But your biggest heart hazard may be in your head, not on your plate.

“People in their 20s and 30s often think they’re too young for heart disease, even though they’ve already developed serious risk factors,” says Sarah Samaan, M.D., a cardiologist at Legacy Heart Center in Plano, TX. In fact, as many as 60 percent of people under 40 have at least one high-risk factor, such as smoking, elevated cholesterol, or obesity — which triples their heart attack odds. But almost 20 percent of people have never had a blood cholesterol test. Make an appointment with your doctor to review where you stand; then get serious about quitting smoking, losing weight, eating right and exercising.

Hidden Heart Risks At 20 & 30

• Missed periods. Just about everyone skips from time to time, but women with long histories of irregular cycles at age 35 have a 50 percent greater chance of eventually having a heart attack, a large Harvard study reported. It may be because erratic cycles are frequently linked with obesity. They’re also a sign of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), a common hormonal disorder that raises the risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and diabetes, as well as infertility and acne. Medication and weight loss (if needed) can get symptoms under control — and should reduce your heart risk, says Anuja Dokras, M.D., an ob-gyn at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Still, to be on the safe side, she advises her PCOS patients to get cholesterol and blood sugar checks every other year.

• Low vitamin D. In a large Finnish study, adults over age 30 who had the lowest blood levels of vitamin D were 25 percent more likely to die from cardiovascular disease later in life than those with the highest levels. “Vitamin D may keep the muscle cells that line the artery walls healthy and flexible, helping to maintain good blood flow to the heart and brain,” says Michal Melamed, M.D., of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. What’s a “good” level? Experts aren’t sure what number is ideal, but agree it should be at least 30 nanograms per milliliter. As for supplements, current guidelines recommend 200 IUs of D daily for people ages 19 to 50, 400 IUs for ages 51 to 70, and 600 IUs for those over 70, but most experts think 1,000 IUs is more in line with what you really need.

20s and 30s Checkup Checklist

• Basic Vital Tests: Have your blood pressure, pulse, waist circumference, and BMI analyzed at least every two years.
• Fasting Cholesterol Test: Let your doctor know that you want to take a fasting cholesterol test. Get this test every two years, unless instructed otherwise by your doctor.
• Vitamin D Level Evaluation: Ask your doctor to check your Vitamin D level.
• Family History: Update your family history at every doctor’s visit.

Your 40s: Get Moving

There’s just so much going on, and it’s hard to take care of yourself, especially when it comes to working out. Even if you’re not constantly carpooling or in meetings, it can be hard to fit in workouts between your job, your kids, caring for aging parents, and checking in with your husband once in a while. But exercise is particularly important in these years: it not only helps to counteract the slowdown of your metabolism, which tends to start in your 40s, but it helps you avoid weight gain and control stress.

Research suggests exercise may also be enough to protect your heart. A study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that overweight adults who maintained their weight, gaining no more than five pounds over 15 years, were less likely to have unhealthy changes in their glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure than those who put on more.

Hidden Heart Risks At 40

• Hysterectomy. Until recently, women who were having this surgery because of problems like uterine fibroids often chose to have their ovaries taken out along with their uterus, as protection against ovarian cancer. But a recent study of almost 30,000 women found that those who had both ovaries removed before age 50 and who never used estrogen therapy had up to a 98 percent higher risk of heart disease than those who kept them. Ovaries continue to…