You likely know that your risk of heart disease and heart attack increases as you age. And although most heart-related problems don’t affect those younger than age 65, there are certain risk factors you should start monitoring when you turn 40.
Five risk factors you should watch after age 40 include:
Your total cholesterol score is calculated by adding your HDL level plus your LDL level and 20 percent of your triglyceride level. In general, you want a total cholesterol score of less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL).
Your blood pressure
Ideally, your blood pressure levels should be 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic). If your blood pressure is higher, it can cause the heart muscle to thicken. This increases the amount of work your heart has to do and may lead to heart disease or heart attack.
Both alcohol use and cigarette smoking increase your risk of heart disease and directly impact other risk factors such as your blood pressure. Also, choosing unhealthy foods, such as those high in fat and sugar, increases your risk of heart disease.
Your activity level
A lack of regular exercise, especially after age 40, puts you at greater risk for heart problems. It’s important to find time for moderate to vigorous physical activity — such as walking or swimming — on a regular basis. Regular exercise also helps to control other risk factors such as blood pressure and cholesterol.
Your other health problems
If you have other health conditions, such as diabetes or obesity, that could increase your risk of heart disease or heart attack. Talk to your doctor about managing your existing health conditions to keep your risk of heart disease lower.
How aging affects your heart
Why does your risk of heart disease and heart attack increase as you age? As you get older, many changes take place in your body, including your heart. The wear and tear of years of life affect your health — even if you are vigilant about controlling other risk factors. Some of the ways that your age affects your heart include:
- Changes to the structure of your blood vessels
- Faster heartbeat during physical activity
- Buildup of fatty deposits in the walls of the arteries
- Arteriosclerosis, or increased stiffness of the large arteries
- High blood pressure, which increases with age
- Changes in your heart’s electrical system which can lead to rapid, slowed or irregular heartbeat
- Changes in the size of the chambers of your heart
- Thickening of the heart walls
All of these changes, which may be a normal part of aging, can increase your risk of heart disease and heart attack.
Start protecting your heart now
Just because you’re aging, doesn’t mean you have to give in to heart problems. Adopting a healthy lifestyle today will greatly reduce your risk of heart disease in the future. Some of the ways you can reduce your risk include:
- Quit smoking
- Exercise (aim for 30 minutes each day)
- Eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Improve cholesterol levels
- Lower blood pressure
- Control diabetes (with help from a physician)
- Learn to manage stress (try yoga or meditation)
- See your doctor for regular checkups to monitor your hearth health
This heart month get started by taking a few moments to find out if you may be at risk for a heart attack — take our free heart health risk assessment.