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Heart Health Tips

It’s Never Too Soon to Be Heart Healthy—know why and how to take care of your heart in your late 30s to your early 50s.

One of the most important and powerful organs in your body, your heart is essentially a muscle (a little larger than your fist) that is responsible for almost everything that gives your body life. As your heart pumps blood throughout your body, it beats approximately 72 times per every minute of your life.

Because the foods you eat and the amount of exercise you do can dramatically affect the overall health of your heart, doesn’t it make sense to be as informed as possible about your heart health?

If you are in your late 30s or into your early 50s, there are specific steps you can take now to keep you heart healthy for years to come. Follow these health tips about how to make heart-felt changes in your life.

In Your 30s

Your 30s are a juggling act with your career and family responsibilities, not to mention trying to focus on heart health. Balance these important aspects of your life by:

  • Making heart-healthy habits part of family life. Engage your kids in the benefits of a healthy lifestyle: get up off the couch and explore a park, kick a soccer ball, plant a vegetable garden or encourage your kids to help in the kitchen and learn about healthy food choices.
  • Knowing your family history. Be proactive about learning about heart disease in your family. Focusing on risk factors you can control is a wonderful gift to your family: maintain a healthy weight, exercise, eat right and do not smoke.
  • Managing stress. Long-term stress causes an increase in heart rate and blood pressure that may damage your artery walls. Make time for you and enjoy a hobby, call a friend or take a break for deep breathing exercises. Soothe your frayed nerves and nourish your life, not just your body.

In Your 40s

It is still a good time to make heart health your No. 1 priority and be mindful of:

  • Weight Gain. In your 40s, your metabolism starts slowing down but you can avoid weight gain by following a heart-healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise.
  • Blood sugar level. In addition to blood pressure checks and other heart health screenings, have a fasting blood glucose test by the time you are 45. This test serves as a baseline for future tests which you should have every three years.
  • Snoring. One in five adults has at least mild sleep apnea. This condition triggers pauses in your breathing during sleep. If left untreated, sleep apnea can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.

In Your 50s

When you look in the mirror, you may see a few wrinkles and a sprinkle of gray hair but what you can’t see is how aging impacts your heart. Now’s the time to:

  • Refresh your eating habits. Make sure to eat a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish, nuts, legumes and seeds. Try some meals without meat.
  • Know the warning signs of a heart attack and stroke. Be aware that not everyone has severe chest pain with a heart attack or sudden numbness with a stroke.
  • Stick to your treatment plan. If you have been diagnosed with conditions that increase your risk for heart disease (such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes) follow the treatment plan your doctor has prescribed, whether that includes medications, and diet and lifestyle changes.

No time to exercise? You can find time!

Being physically active is important to prevent heart disease. Physical activity is anything that makes you move your body and burn calories. In fact, the most simple, positive change you can do to improve your heart health is to start walking. It’s free, its effective and you can easily make it part of a daily routine.

You just need 30 minutes in your day, five days a week. To make it easy, you don’t have to do all 30 minutes at once. You can divide your time into two or three segments of 10 to 15 minutes per day.

For overall cardiovascular health, the American Heart Association recommends:

  • At least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity at least 5 days per week for a total of 150 minutes.
  • Or

  • At least 25 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity at least three days per week for a total of 75 minutes, or a combination of moderate-and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
  • And

  • Moderate–to-high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity at least two days a week for additional health benefits.

For lowering blood pressure and cholesterol:

  • An average of 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous-intensity aerobic activity three or four times per week.

Don’t worry if you can’t reach your goal the first day; increase your time as you get stronger. Be proud of yourself for doing something positive about making a healthy change in your life.

Here are do-able options for easy – and often free – exercise:

  1. Walk your dog. Bond with man’s best friend and you both enjoy the benefits.
  2. Take your kids on a walk or find a walking buddy. Take a few minutes to walk and enjoy nature, your neighborhood or a fun “eye-spy” game.
  3. Mall walk. Enjoy a climate-controlled walk, instead of shivering on a winter’s day or sweating in summer heat. Your time will speed by if you window shop and people watch.
  4. Join a team. Team sports are a fun alternative and time with friends is a stress-reducer.
  5. Working? Walk and talk. Some workplaces have walking paths to make it easy to multi-task by walking with a colleague. Get out of your chair and put those feet to work.
  6. Exercise during TV time. Walk, jog in place, or if at the gym, get on the treadmill to watch a 30–minute program.
  7. Park and walk. Forget circling the parking lot to find the closest spot. Take this opportunity to park a little further away and you gain some extra steps.
  8. Don’t ignore the stairs. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. It makes a difference in your heart rate.
  9. Dance. Turn up the music and get into your groove, whether in your living room or a club. Burn calories a fun way.
  10. Skip dessert and walk after dinner. Trade in tempting calories for a walk after dinner. You’ll quickly see results.

Know your numbers

What you don’t know, can hurt you. Here is an overview of what you need to know about the numbers that have a direct impact on your heart and the American Heart Association’s target goals:

Total cholesterol

Controlling your cholesterol plays an important role in heart health. Your test report shows your cholesterol levels in milligrams per deciliter of blood (mg/dL). Your total cholesterol and HDL (good) cholesterol are among the many factors used to predict your lifetime or 10-year risk for a heart attack or stroke.

Goal: Your total cholesterol score is calculated by this equation: HDL + LDL +20 percent of your triglyceride level. A total cholesterol score of less than 180 mg/dL is considered optimal.

HDL (good) cholesterol

It is better to have higher levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. Low HDL cholesterol means you are at higher risk for heart disease. Smoking being overweight or a sedentary lifestyle can lead to lower HDL cholesterol.

LDL (bad) cholesterol

For heart health, you want your low–density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol level to be low. According to new guidelines from the American Heart Association, your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) number should no longer be the main factor in guiding treatment to prevent a heart attack and stroke. If you are taking statins, the guidelines indicate you do not need to get your LDL cholesterol level down to a specific target number.

Triglycerides

Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. Normal triglyceride levels vary by age and sex. A high triglyceride level, combined with low HDL cholesterol or high LDL cholesterol, is associated with atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in artery walls. This buildup increases the risk for a heart attack and stroke.

Blood Pressure

Goal: Less than 120/80 mmHg.

Your blood pressure should be regularly checked and regulated. High blood pressure, also called hypertension, can be affected by your weight. Excess fat increases the work your heart has to perform to pump blood throughout your body, Lowering your body weight by even as little as 5 to 10 percent can lower your blood pressure and increase your heart health.

Fasting Glucose

Goal: Less than 100 mg/dL

Body Mass Index (BMI)

Goal: Greater than 18.5 but less than 25 kg/m2

Waist Circumference

*Goal: Women: 35 inches or less, Men: 40 inches or less

*If BMI is greater than 25 kg/m2

Alcohol

Women: no more than 1 drink per day

Men: no more than 2 drinks per day

(one drink = 4 oz. of wine, 1 oz. of liquor or 12 oz. of beer)

It's Never Too Late to Start

The good news is you are never too young – or too old – to take care of your heart. The time and effort you invest now will pay dividends to your overall health and wellbeing. A heart-healthy lifestyle will help you feel great and stay that way for many years to come.