Get Heart Smart

Take steps now to prevent heart disease later

woman checking pulse

It’s never too soon to develop heart-healthy habits. “As we age, our risk for heart disease increases,” says Stephanie Coulter, MD, director of the Texas Heart Institute Center for Women’s Heart and Vascular Health. If you do the right things in your 40s, you can help prevent health problems in your 50s and beyond. Eating well and staying active are the two most important things you can do to protect your heart. Try these tips:

Mind your calories
“As women age, we need fewer calories, and our metabolism slows down,” Dr. Coulter says. But as long as you stay active and watch your intake, you can stay ahead of it. Measure your food, or just use a smaller plate. At a restaurant, order a smaller portion or take half of your meal home.

Eat for your heart
Foods from a Mediterranean-style diet are good for the heart, thanks to fiber and good fats. Eat plenty of vegetables, and fill your plate with whole grains, fruits, beans, and lean protein like fish. Add flavor with garlic, basil, and other spices instead of salt.

Move every day
Aim to be active at least 20 minutes daily. “It’s best to do something that gets your heart rate up for 20 minutes at a time, like cycling, running, tennis, or really brisk walking,” Dr. Coulter says. Pushing the stroller or playing with the kids counts, too.

Know your blood pressure
Get a blood pressure test at least once a year, even if you feel perfectly healthy. It’s a great way to find out how your heart is doing and know if you need to make some changes, such as cutting back on salty foods. Also, be sure to have your cholesterol tested.

Get some sleep
“Sleep is so critical to heart health,” says JoAnne Foody, MD, director of the Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Center in Boston. “Middle-aged women in particular experience sleep problems that really affect their health.” The good news is that getting enough sleep helps people have lower blood pressure and a healthier weight.