I’ve worried about my heart health from a young age. Both sides of my family have a long history of heart disease. While my family had a history of smoking which increased their risk, I worry that aside from brains and beauty, they may have also passed along a genetic predisposition for heart disease. For a while I thought I was doomed, cursed to live with bad genes and wait and see what happens when I get older. I mean what can I do about it now? I’m only 21. Well it turns out it’s never too early to think about heart health.
Unfortunately, there are some risk factors we can’t change. Early family history of heart disease and age (over 55 years old) are out of our control. But it’s important to know that at any age we can start taking care of ourselves and lower our risk. There are even steps young women in their 20’s can take.
At any age, a healthy diet and regular exercise are important ways to be heart healthy. It can be hard to find motivation to choose a salad over a burger or an hour at the gym over an hour of watching Scandal, but starting these habits at a young age is far easier than changing your lifestyle later on. Another good habit to start at a young age is getting regular wellness exams. Even if you’re healthy now, it’s important to screen things like blood pressure and cholesterol. You should also talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of your birth control and heart disease.
Smoking is well-known to be a big risk factor for heart disease, and it’s very important to quit as soon as possible if you smoke. But secondhand smoke also increases the risk of heart disease in non-smokers. Avoiding secondhand smoke is an easy and significant way to adjust your risk.
Drinking heavily is another known risk factor, but what does it really mean to drink in moderation? For women, it means just one drink per day. Surprising, right? That’s one 4 oz. glass of wine, or one 12 oz. beer. So next time you pour yourself a glass of wine, keep in mind that just because half the bottle fits in the glass, it doesn’t mean you should drink the whole thing (as tempting as it may be).
As much as we may wish that doing one specific exercise or avoiding one particular food will completely erase the risk of heart disease, there is no one way to prevent it. Luckily, with a few lifestyle adjustments we can greatly decrease our risk while also improving our overall health!
Amanda Lynen was a NWHN Intern in Spring 2015.
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