Amy L. Woodruff, MD, sees women of all ages come to her cardiology practice for a wide range of heart problems. A young married woman who knows she has a congenital heart problem may want to plan ahead for pregnancy; another woman in her middle years might know she needs blood pressure, cholesterol, lipids and diabetes screenings. And women of all ages may experience palpitations, angina or other signals that say "Check This Out!"
To these and all women, Dr. Woodruff has plenty of heart advice to offer. But, she says, if she could give just one tip to women in each decade of their lives, she'd choose these:
In Your 20s:
Commit to Healthy Habits
"Women who smoke probably started in their teens," Dr. Woodruff notes. "Becoming a non-smoker in young adulthood, before a great deal of damage is done, is the most important healthy habit. Rounding out the top three good habits are regular exercise and smart eating."
In Your 30s:
Team with your Doctor to Assess your Risks
High blood pressure and high cholesterol often show up during a woman's 30s. "Many young adult women rely on their OB/Gyn as their primary physician—which is understandable, but now it's also time to choose an internist with whom you have a good rapport," says Dr. Woodruff. "Together you can pinpoint any lifestyle changes you need to make."
In Your 40s:
Don't let your Busy Life Sidetrack Good Habits
By this decade, most women have completed their childbearing and have every minute filled with career and family obligations. "Exercise and healthy eating may fall victim to your time crunch if you don't make a point of keeping your health a high priority. At the same time, don't be reluctant to begin taking any cholesterol or blood pressure medication you may need."
In Your 50s:
Know Your Numbers
One big eye-opener for women in their 50s is the multiple medications their doctor may prescribe. "This is the time when women need to truly 'take ownership' of their own cholesterol, blood pressure, lipids and blood-sugar levels," advises Dr. Woodruff. "It's also not too late to put primary prevention measures into practice, so don't hesitate to start exercising and eating right."
In Your 60s (And Beyond):
Stay on Top of any Developing Heart Issues
Cardiovascular disease typically takes decades to hit full force, and after a woman passes 60, symptoms such as angina or shortness of breath may show up. "The 60s is the most likely decade to see a first clear manifestation of heart disease, so pain or any other sign needs to be taken seriously. Don't wait!"
Tip for Any Time and All Times:
If you're active now, keep up the good work. If you're not active, explore your exercise options—and start now.
Learn more about these topics in the Heart Information Center.
♥ Heart Disease Risk Factors
Updated September 2010