A Heart Health Guide for Your 30s, 40s, and 50s

Though most women develop heart disease after menopause, it appears to be growing faster than ever among younger women. Each decade of life brings its own challenges -- and opportunities to improve your heart health for decades to come.
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In Your 30s

"A lot of women look in the mirror and say, 'I can fit into my skinny jeans, so I must be healthy,'" says Emily G. Kurtz, MD, director of Preventive Cardiology at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. But studies find that plaque buildup in blood vessels can begin as early as your 20s, and with heart attacks in younger women on the rise, the 30s is the time to think ahead and set healthy patterns, like exercise and a heart-healthy diet, that will pay dividends throughout your life.

  • Eat less junk. "Young working women go for quick and cheap food, but its impact on your weight and waistline correlates closely to your heart risks," says Holly Andersen, MD, director of education at the Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
  • Know your numbers. If you haven't gotten readings of your cholesterol, blood sugar, and blood pressure, see your doctor for a baseline exam.
  • Avoid birth control pills if you smoke or have high blood pressure. The combination has been shown to increase your risk of developing blood clots and having a heart attack, especially in pills containing the progestin drospirenone.
  • Get more shut-eye. "Don't underestimate the impact that sleep deprivation has on your weight and cardiovascular health," Dr. Andersen says.
  • Breastfeed if you can. Women who do so are less likely to develop plaque buildup in their coronary arteries, according to a recent study.

Continued on page 2:  In Your 40s


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