The only time your hard-working heart gets any attention is when something goes wrong. Here’s how to show it some love—now—to keep it ticking stronger and longer.
What’s going on: Work and family commitments stress you out and leave little time to exercise and seek out healthy foods. It’s easy to get caught in “the vicious cycle of taking care of everyone but yourself,” says cardiologist Dr. Nieca Goldberg of New York University Langone Medical Center.
What to do: Schedule a physical within a week of your next birthday. While it’s not a long weekend at the Ritz, a checkup is the ultimate act of self-care. “Not knowing about your heart health is your greatest risk,” Goldberg says. Work with your doctor to address any trouble spots.
What’s going on: Fifty percent of women age 45-plus have high blood pressure, dramatically increasing their risk for heart disease, stroke and heart attack, Goldberg says.
What to do: Cut back on sodium-packed processed and fast foods and choose fresh foods instead. Goldberg recommends the DASH diet to lower blood pressure. Angina (chest pain or pressure, or jaw, neck or arm pain that comes on with activity) is serious at any age, but men in their 40s should be particularly on guard, says cardiologist Dr. Edward Kasper of Johns Hopkins Hospital.
What’s going on: After menopause, women’s risk for heart disease catches up with men’s. Fine-tune your radar to pick up any signs of trouble—nausea, shortness of breath and fatigue after activity, in addition to the usual symptoms of angina. “Women may have different symptoms than men,” Kasper says.
What to do: Call the doctor if you experience symptoms—even if you’re not sure it’s a heart issue. And be sure to let your voice be heard when seeking treatment. Research shows women are not getting the tests they need to determine if they are having a heart attack. At the very least, demand an electrocardiogram (EKG) to identify if you are having a serious type of heart attack called an ST elevation myocardial infarction.
What’s going on: Problems like arthritis, knee pain and joint stiffness may threaten to keep you from exercising—and that could hurt you in more ways than one. Being sedentary weakens muscles and bones and tends to increase pain, not to mention the damage it does to your heart.
What to do: Get any sore spots checked out by a doctor. An exercise program can be tailored to fit your needs—activities like water exercise, Tai-Chi, yoga and Pilates can keep your heart and muscles strong while helping you avoid achy joints.