For a lot of women, their 50s is when they really hit their stride, especially when it comes to health. At this point, you probably know what type of eating plan makes you feel your best and you’ve experimented with enough different types of workouts that you know what you actually have fun doing.
But in other ways, it can feel more challenging. Thanks to menopause, your body is changing in ways that might not always be welcome. You might feel more winded doing a workout that you used to crush just a few years before. Or maybe new worries are entering your mind, such as bone loss or keeping your heart healthy. The latter is one cardiologists hear about a lot from women over 50.
Cardiologists Harvey Kramer, MD and Matthew Budoff, MD both say there are some heart health tips they discuss with all of their female patients over 50. Here, they share what they are so you can live by them, too.
Good heart health for women over 50 starts with these key fundamentals, say cardiologists:
1. Start by being sure your heart is healthy to begin with.
If you have any concerns about your heart whatsoever or haven’t been in for a checkup in a while, Dr. Kramer, who works with Nuvance Health, says you should definitely book some face time with your doctor. “During your health examination, your physician should assess your risk for heart disease to be sure your heart is healthy and identify any risk factors for developing heart disease in the future,” Dr. Kramer says. “An exam should include medical history, a physical with a blood pressure check and heart exam, an electrocardiogram (ECG), and lab work to determine blood sugar levels and lipid profile.” (He adds that you can also asses your risk for heart disease using the American Heart Association risk estimator.)
Dr. Kramer says that if your checkup highlights any health issues, including high-blood pressure or elevated blood sugar levels, the next step is to talk to your doctor about how to address them. He says this always starts with lifestyle habits, including finding ways to eat healthy foods you enjoy and stay active. But depending on how serious the issues are, medications may also play a role as well.
2. Move your body for at least 150 minutes a week.
Both cardiologists say that they always emphasize the importance of movement to their patients, especially over 50. (Their job title does have the word cardio in it, after all.) “Exercise is the most important for the women over 50 as it helps with cognition, heart disease, and bone strength, which is especially important as we age,” Dr. Budoff says. Dr. Kramer says a good rule to live by is exercising for about 150 minutes of moderate, physical activity per week.
3. Build a support system.
If you aren’t used to exercising for 150 minutes a week or are trying to eat more healthfully, Dr. Kramer acknowledges that changing your lifestyle isn’t always easy. This is why he says a support system can be helpful. One idea could be scheduling a nightly phone date with a friend where you both use the time to catch up while walking around your respective neighborhoods. Maybe you and your partner have fun healthy cooking challenges at home. Or it could seek out a community online. “There are online programs to assist you with improving your habits,” Dr. Kramer says. (Looking for a community to inspire you to cook more healthfully? Well+Good’s Cook With Us Facebook group is a great one to check out.)
4. Eat more garlic.
Dr. Budoff is a big fan of garlic—and not only because it adds more flavor to food. “I have found that aged garlic extract (AGE) may have the single best impact on heart health than any other known dietary supplement,” he says. “My research suggests that it supports healthy blood pressure and reduces bad cholesterol levels, reduces plaque in coronary arteries and improves the health of blood vessel walls.”
Watch the video below to learn more about the health benefits of garlic:
5. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep.
One of the most important heart health tips for women over 50? Getting enough sleep. “We all know proper sleep allows the body to repair itself. Sleep is very important for a healthy heart,” Dr. Budoff says. Not getting enough, he adds, puts you at greater risk for cardiovascular and coronary health disease. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that adults, including people in their 50s, get seven to nine hours of sleep per night. According to the NSP, women report experiencing more sleeping problems than men and one reason for this is due to stress. Because of this, finding ways to reduce stress is crucial.
6. Brush and floss every day.
You may think your mouth has absolutely nothing to do with your cardiovascular health, but Dr. Budoff says they’re actually connected. “Several studies show that your dental health and cardiac health are intertwined,” he says. “The bacteria in your mouth, when released into the bloodstream, can increase inflammation and lead to hardening of the arteries, which, in turn, can eventually lead to heart attack and stroke.” That’s definitely good reason to brush and floss every day—especially if you’re, you know, eating more garlic.
The real key, Dr. Kramer says, is making these health rules ones you live by to the point that they’re fully integrated into your daily life. But he says to never feel bad if one falls by the wayside. “Changing habits, including improving your lifestyle, is difficult,” he says. “If you regress in changing habits, try again. It can take many tries before you successfully master your new lifestyle.”
It’s definitely advice worth taking to (ahem) heart.