Tia Simpson suffered a severe stroke at age 20. Heart disease can happen at any age, which is why Go Red For Women wants you to consider your heart health at every age.
Start practicing heart-healthy habits in your 20s. Learn what you can do to prevent heart disease and stay heart-healthy early with the following advice.
Know your numbers.
Know the numbers that impact your heart health. This will make it easier to spot a possible change in the future. Your goal should be less than 200 mg of total cholesterol intake daily, and strive for a blood pressure reading of 120/80 mm Hg or less. Visit your doctor so you know your numbers and take the Go Red Heart CheckUp to further assess your risk.
Check your family history.
Ask your family if anyone has had heart disease or any of the risk factors for heart disease. If the answer is yes, your chances for developing heart disease go up. It’s important to learn this information now so you can be aware of your risk. Make a point to talk with your doctor and see what you can do to decrease your risk of developing heart disease.
Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke.
Smoking increases the risk of heart disease and stroke by two to four times. Also, women who smoke have a 25 percent higher risk of developing heart disease as compared to men who smoke. And continuing to smoke throughout your life shaves 13-14 years off of it. According to a U.S. Surgeon General report, even nonsmokers are up to 30 percent more likely to develop heart disease or lung cancer from secondhand smoke exposure.
The good news is that when you stop smoking, your risk for heart disease and stroke can be cut in half just one year later and continues to decline until it’s as low as a nonsmoker’s risk.
Drink in moderation.
Drinking heavily can cause a spike in your blood pressure, and in some cases cause heart failure and lead to a stroke. Keep in mind that for women, moderate drinking is no more than one drink per day, which is defined as:
- 1-1/2 fluid ounces (fl oz) of 80-proof spirits (such as bourbon, scotch, vodka, gin, etc.)
- 1 fl oz of 100-proof spirits
- 4 fl oz of wine
- 12 fl oz of beer
Choose birth control carefully.
Talk to your doctor about birth control and heart disease so that you can make a fully informed decision based on the risks and benefits. Oral contraceptives along with other birth control options can cause an increase in your blood pressure. If you can safely use an alternative method that doesn’t put your health at risk, consider the advantages. Remember that cigarette smoking and oral birth control use can increase the risk of serious cardiovascular disease.
Eat balanced, healthy meals.
Eating healthy means having balanced meals with plenty of nutrients from foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, as well as proteins and dairy. Train your taste buds now to enjoy healthy foods to prevent excess weight gain that can increase your heart risk as you age. The American Heart Association recommends the following consumption of foods:
- Fruits and vegetables: At least 4.5 cups a day
- Fish (preferably oily fish, like salmon): At least two 3.5-ounce servings a week
- Fiber-rich whole grains: At least three 1-ounce servings a day
- Nuts, legumes and seeds: At least 4 servings a week, opting for unsalted varieties whenever possible
It is also important to minimize sodium and saturated fats, and to avoid processed meats and sugary drinks to maintain a heart-healthy diet.
Exercise three to four times per week.
The AHA recommends 40 minutes of exercise three to four times per week, according to its new guidelines. Brisk walking, jogging and workout routines you can do at home or with friends all help accomplish your physical fitness goals.
Learn more ways to prevent heart disease on Go Red For Women.