Few women in their twenties and thirties are worried about the risk of heart disease. But, as it turns out, these could be the most important years for building a healthy heart.
“The habits you develop early in your life—in your twenties and thirties rather than your forties and fifties—are what lay the groundwork for a healthy heart later in life,” explains Richard R. McCurdy, Jr., MD, cardiologist with the Lankenau Heart Institute at Riddle Hospital. “It’s important for everyone to practice healthy habits, but for women especially, as heart disease remains such a prevalent health issue.”
Although taking charge of your heart health can seem like a daunting task, little changes can add up quickly, says Dr. McCurdy. Below, he explores five things women can do today to take control of their heart disease risk.
Go to sleep
Young women, many of whom maintain a busy career and family life, are often sacrificing sleep.
“Many people assume that the worst thing that can happen when they skimp on sleep is that they’re tired during the day, but the effects can be much worse than that. Not getting enough sleep can increase your risk for obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes—all of which can negatively affect your heart,” explains Dr. McCurdy.
Make sleep a priority by setting a consistent sleep schedule—going to sleep around the same time every night and waking around the same time every morning. Check out more tips for creating a healthy sleep environment.
Pass on happy hour
An occasional drink won’t do much to harm your heart, but drinking too much alcohol can contribute to increased levels of triglycerides and high blood pressure, as well as heart failure. Because of its effect on your health, the recommended daily alcohol intake for women is one drink per day. That’s the equivalent of a 12-ounce beer, 4 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of liquor.
Although it can be hard to cut out happy hour altogether, make a note to only have one drink per event, and try an alternative like seltzer water with flavored juice or fruit.
Take a walk
Although young women can be an active group, many still aren’t exercising enough. With competition from work, family and friends, exercise often falls to the bottom of your to-do list. Unfortunately, that’s one sacrifice you can’t afford to make, says Dr. McCurdy.
“Exercise is one of the absolute best things you can do for your overall health, but especially for your heart. A regular exercise routine can drastically reduce your heart disease risk,” he explains.
Fortunately, when it comes to exercise, every little bit helps, so look for opportunities to fit in activity—walking to work, taking the stairs, parking further away from the front of a store. But it’s also important to carve out longer amounts of time for exercise. Schedule at least a half hour of exercise into your calendar on most days of the week to ensure you’re getting the maximum heart health benefit.
Don’t ignore your diet
It’s easy to order take-out after a busy day at work or getting home and realizing the refrigerator is empty. But all those high-fat, high-sodium meals can wreak havoc on your heart.
“It’s not always easy to make healthy diet choices. There are so many options that are presented to us on a daily basis, but few of them are the best options for our heart health,” says Dr. McCurdy. “Paying attention to what you’re eating and making a conscious effort to eat a healthy diet can have huge benefits.”
Your physician can help define your dietary needs, but a rule of thumb is to have plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains like popcorn and quinoa, and healthy fats like nuts and oils. Try these dietitian-approved foods for a healthy heart.
Make an appointment
When was the last time you visited your physician for an annual check-up? Although most women wait until they’re sick to visit the physician, a check-up can help clue you into some key heart health indicators like blood pressure, cholesterol, weight, and body mass index (BMI). These numbers can help you determine your heart disease risk, and give you the chance to discuss your personal health history with your physician.
At the Lankenau Heart Institute, we know that not all hearts are created equal. Our cardiac experts understand the unique heart health needs of women, and we're proud to feature a team of 11 female cardiologists. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.