Your heart health is important at every age. But as you get older, your risk for cardiovascular disease increases. As a woman, this may line up with a major transition in your life—menopause.
Menopause is the end of your monthly period, usually from natural aging. You've reached menopause when you haven't had a period for 12 months in a row. While this time of life can come with a lot of other changes (like night sweats and mood changes), it can also impact your heart health.
According to Erin O'Malley Tysko, MD, cardiologist at Lankenau Heart Institute, part of Main Line Health, "Cardiovascular disease, which can refer to a number of health conditions like heart disease, heart attack, and stroke, is not caused by menopause. However, you may face more risk factors around this time, making your heart health even more crucial."
Here are some heart health risk factors that may increase around the time of menopause—and how to keep your heart healthy as you age.
Heart health risk factors and menopause
Around the time you go through menopause—which often begins between the ages of 45 and 55—you may begin to face additional risk factors that impact your heart health.
- Your age: If you reach menopause before you turn 45, you may have a higher risk of developing coronary artery disease.
- Lowered estrogen levels: As estrogen levels decrease, risk of heart disease and plaque buildup increases.
- Depression: During and after menopause, you may be more likely to feel depressed, which was been linked with an increased risk of heart disease.
- Troubles sleeping: Hot flashes and night sweats may make it difficult to sleep during the menopausal transition, which can increase your risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure.
- Lifestyle choices: With age, certain unhealthy habits, such as smoking or an unhealthy diet, may begin to take a toll on your heart health.
How to maintain your heart health during menopause and beyond
Menopause is a completely natural phase in a woman's life, but that doesn't mean it's always easy. As you navigate this new time in your life, it can be an ideal opportunity to take a closer look at your health—including your heart health.
If you've lived a heart-healthy life until now, your risk of heart disease is already lower. However, it's never too late to start making choices that benefit both your heart and your overall wellness, including:
- Not smoking
- Eating a healthy diet full of fruits, veggies, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, and nuts
- Avoiding unhealthy foods, such as red meat and sugary foods and drinks
- Staying active (at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week)
- Limiting your alcohol intake to one standard drink a day (such as 5 ounces of wine or 12 ounces of regular beer)
- If you don't drink alcohol, do not start
- Manage your stress levels through physical activity, meditation, or spending time with supportive loved ones
When it comes to menopause-specific risk factors, such as trouble sleeping and depression, talk to your healthcare provider about how you can navigate these symptoms of menopause. They can help you adjust to this transition in your life using lifestyle choices and, if needed, medical treatment.
"Heart health is a lifetime commitment. Whether you've been prioritizing this for years or you're just starting out, each day matters in keeping your heart healthy," explains Dr. Tysko. "Most cardiovascular diseases can still be prevented with education and healthy lifestyle changes. Make small changes you can commit to, and keep incorporating heart-healthy choices into your life."
Keeping your heart healthy is a team effort
Going through menopause and getting older both come with new health factors to consider, and it can be tough to keep track of it all. Fortunately, you're not alone when it comes to keeping your heart healthy during and after menopause.
It's important to be your own advocate. Talk to your healthcare provider about your current heart health, including your risk for heart disease. Your risk depends on things you can control like your blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight, and other risk factors that you cannot control like family history.
Then, ask them what steps you can take today to protect your heart. Together, you can create a plan that keeps both you and your heart healthy during menopause and for years to come.