The Heart Disease Prevention Guide for Your 20s, 30s, and 40s
Life's a lot more complicated now than it was in your 20s. Most likely, your career has gained momentum and you may be starting a family. The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics reports that in 2004, 57 percent of married women with children under the age of 6 worked and 66 percent of women in the workforce had children of all ages. Balancing work and family might be upping your stress levels, which raises your risk for heart disease, says Dr. Goldberg. Cortisol and adrenaline -- two major stress hormones -- can constrict blood vessels, raising blood pressure and leaving vessels vulnerable to blockages. You're more prone to weight gain now (which can strain your heart), since your metabolism has started to slow down, and it may be challenging to fit exercise into your schedule. Higher stress levels may also be cutting into your sleep, another risk factor.Decompress
You may not be able to change your stressors, but you can change how you react to them. "The more you learn to relax, the more adept your body will be at regulating stress hormone levels," says Dr. Goldberg. Find your own relief zone, whether it's yoga, aerobic exercise, tai chi, or a weekly massage or manicure and pedicure appointment. If you're very busy with young children, try a calming hobby that you can do at home, such as knitting or keeping a journal. A study of medical students under a high degree of pressure at the University of Mumbai in India found that residents turned to hobbies as the most common stress reliever.Muscle Up
If you haven't already started a weight-training routine, doing so now will help maintain and boost your percentage of lean body mass, which keeps your metabolism stoked and prevents the pounds from creeping up. Not familiar with the weight room? Hire a personal trainer to show you the ropes, start attending a resistance-training class at your local gym, or opt for a home video. Aim for twice weekly sessions of an hour each.Play with Your Kids
Every little bit of activity counts. A Harvard study found that people who gained as little as 11 pounds significantly increased their risk of coronary heart disease. Use daily physical activities to keep your weight steady. Take your baby on long walks -- believe it or not, pushing a stroller counts as light resistance training, which helps build muscle. Choose a parking spot that's not right in front of the grocery store and carry the bags out to the car yourself. (More weight training!) Take the dog on daily walks and join your kids for freeze tag in the park.Get Enough Sleep
Sleeping fewer than five hours per night can increase your risk of heart disease by about 39 percent. Make sure you get more than that (about six to eight hours), and go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, even on weekends. The National Sleep Foundation also recommends establishing a relaxing bedtime routine, like a hot bath, light reading, or listening to soothing music to help you fall asleep faster. If young children are interrupting your nighttime sleep cycle, try to nap when they do. Skip alcohol, since it conks you out initially but then wakes you up in the middle of your sleep cycle.Cut Back on the 3 White Devils
You don't need to avoid sugar, salt, and refined flours entirely, but limiting your intake can go a long way toward keeping your arteries healthy. "Foods high in sugar and low in fiber, such as cakes and cookies, can contribute to weight gain, and raise your cholesterol and triglyceride levels," says Steinbaum. Additionally, the more salt you have in your diet, the higher your blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends that you limit daily sodium intake to under 2,300 milligrams.Rethink Your Birth Control
If you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or a strong family history of heart disease, reconsider using hormonal contraceptives such as the pill and the patch, cautions Dr. Goldberg. "These don't increase heart disease risk by themselves, but they could exacerbate risk factors you already have," she explains. "If you smoke, for example, they may not be a good choice." Talk with your gynecologist about whether a nonhormonal birth-control method like a diaphragm, cervical cap, sponge, or IUD is a better option.
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