The risks of heart disease increases as we age but for women in menopause, or any phase of menopause, the risks are even higher and should be taken seriously.
It’s not “menopause” that causes cardiovascular disease. It’s the changes that occur in our bodies during menopause that can contribute to an increase in the risk factors.
During menopause our bodies produce less of the hormone estrogen. Among other things, estrogen is thought to have a positive effect on the inner layer of the artery wall which helps with blood flow.
Blood pressure also tends to go up during menopause. Undetected or untreated high blood pressure can damage arteries and prevent blood flow to the heart, cause blood vessels in the brain to clog or even burst causing a stroke, effect the kidneys ability to filter the blood, the heart can enlarge due to an increased workload from high blood pressure and cause heart failure.
LDL cholesterol (bad) goes up which contributes to fatty buildup in the arteries and can lead to heart attacks and stroke while the HDL cholesterol (good) goes down. HDL cholesterol carries the LDL cholesterol away from the arteries and back to the liver to breakdown and pass from the body.
Triglycerides go up during menopause. Triglycerides are the most common type of fat in the body. They store excess energy from your diet. A high triglyceride level combined with high LDL (bad) cholesterol or low HDL (good) cholesterol is linked with fatty buildups within the artery walls, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Family history also plays a key role in the risk factors of heart disease. It’s a good idea to find out if anyone in your family has had a heart attack or stroke and at what age. This will help you and your doctor to create a plan to reduce the other risk factors and avoid cardiovascular complications.
4 WAYS TO REDUCE YOUR RISK OF HEART DISEASE
#1 Good Nutrition - Consume whole non-processed foods. Lean protein, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and healthy natural fats. Avoid added sugar, preservatives, and highly processed foods packaged foods. What you put in your body is what you get out.
#2 Regular Exercise - aim for 2 1/2 hours per week to prevent heart disease and at least 5 hours a week if you need to lose a significant amount of fat. This doesn’t have to mean the gym! Move your body in ways that will get your heart rate up, add resistance and avoid injury. Find things you like to do to keep you consistent. Take a dance class, go for power walks, ride a bike, swim. If you are enjoying what you do you will stick with it.
#3 Maintain a Healthy Weight - Being overweight or obese increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. Mainly because obesity can lead to the disease states like high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes which increase the risk of heart disease. There are many thoughts on why women gain weight during menopause. Some think is due to the decrease in estrogen which is believed to increase our appetites. While at the same time our metabolism is slowing down. Creating sustainable healthy lifestyle habits with proper nutrition, exercise and stress management will help maintain a healthy weight.
# 4 Quit Smoking - Work with your health care provider and get the resources needed to help you quit. Smoking has been shown to contribute to early menopause, increase the risk of blood clots and effect your HDL cholesterol. They’re many other risk factors attributed to smoking but we are focusing on heart disease here.
If you focus on living a healthy lifestyle not only will your menopausal symptoms improve but your risk of heart disease will decrease.
Join the New Normal Lifestyle's Private FaceBook group for women in menopause to get the additional support and resources that are helpful at this stage of life.