Our bodies change and evolve throughout our lifetime, but specific changes – such as menopause – cause noticeable shifts in how we look and feel. In addition, the hormone fluctuations that occur during menopause (decreases in estrogen and progesterone, with increases in testosterone levels) have a range of side effects, including an increased risk of heart disease.
The Connection Between Menopause & Heart Disease
As estrogen and progesterone levels go down and androgen (male hormone) levels increase, we see cholesterol and blood pressure increase. Elevated cholesterol levels and high blood pressure are both precursors of heart disease.
As a result, your OB/GYN should begin speaking to you about these changes when you start showing signs of perimenopause – the handful of years leading up to when periods cease for good. Also, let your OB and physician know if you have a family history of heart disease, as this increases your risks even more.
5 Steps To Avoid Heart Disease in Your 50s & Beyond
You can do several things to resist downward health trends and prevent heart disease after menopause. The good news is that they support healthy weight management while managing other existing health issues.
1. Speak to your OB/GYN about hormone replacement therapy
Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is not a one-size-fits-all solution. However, depending on your family medical history, personal medical history, and menopause symptoms HRT may be an ideal solution. In addition to reducing undesirable menopause symptoms and side effects, HRT can support heart health.
Your doctor can determine whether or not you’re a good candidate and then discuss which options make the most sense for you. Keep in mind that HRT is not a permanent situation. We typically prescribe it for the first two to five years of menopause and slowly reduce doses until you’re back to a natural, post-menopausal hormone balance. So, you’ll still need to focus on these other healthy heart tips to prevent heart disease.
2. Focus on an anti-inflammatory diet
An anti-inflammatory diet is more of a guide than a restrictive diet. It is full of colorful, tasty, and nutritious ingredients – all of which work to fight inflammation in the body. You can find all kinds of ways to enjoy your favorite foods and treats by learning how to switch a few harmful (inflammatory) ingredients for health-positive alternatives.
Patients who switch to a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods report a wide range of improvements, including:
● Natural weight loss
● Reduced blood pressure readings without medication (or the ability to reduce or eliminate blood pressure meds)
● More energy
● Mood boosts
● Reduced pain from arthritis or other inflammation-centered diseases
● Minimal to no “negative” menopause symptoms
It’s also an ideal meal plan for those who have trouble balancing blood sugar or have type 2 diabetes. In some cases, dedicating yourself to a diabetes-friendly version of an anti-inflammatory diet can notably reduce or eliminate the need for diabetes medications.
3. Regularly get moderate exercise
Not surprisingly, exercise is a key component in preventing heart disease. Getting moderate exercise at least five times a week, aiming for about 20 to 30 minutes (or more) per session, offers multiple benefits – including weight management, balanced blood sugar, and better hormone balance.
We understand that not everyone enjoys hitting the gym or taking an exercise class. That’s okay. There are plenty of other ways to get your heart rate up and move those muscles and bones. For example, include ways to build exercise into everyday routines (parking in the furthest space, taking the stairs, dancing, extending your daily walk by 10 minutes, marching in place when you’re on hold, etc.).
And don’t forget that weight-bearing exercises are as important as cardio when it comes to preventing osteoporosis.
4. Manage your stress
Who isn’t inspired by poet Mary Oliver and her poignant query in Summer Day, “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do. With your one wild and precious life?”
By the time we reach menopause, we must make the most of each day we’re granted. So why spend those days in a state of stress? Chronic stress causes heart disease and makes you far more prone to having a heart attack or stroke. Managing stress is essential, learning how to let life flow through you without causing consistent adrenaline feeds.
Simple changes to reduce and manage stress include:
● Spending time in nature
● Being present with your feelings and expressing them rather than holding them in
● Eliminating unnecessary stressors
● Learning to say no or canceling plans when you’re not up for them
● Keeping a gratitude journal
● Persistently following what brings you joy
5. Establish healthy sleep habits
Sleep restores the body, mind, and spirit. It’s also key for hormone balance, detoxing, and giving the heart the deep rest it needs. If you suffer from insomnia or interrupted sleep, don’t assume “that’s just the way it is.” Instead, take a proactive approach to find what works for you to get a good night’s sleep.
Schedule Your Next Well Woman Appointment
Your annual Well Woman appointment is a foundational part of taking care of your body during menopause, including the ability to catch any red flags that put you at risk for heart disease. Contact Overlake OB/GYN to schedule your next exam.