When it comes to heart health, it’s never too early (or too late) to be proactive. And since February is American Heart Month, now is a great time to learn about the preventive measures you can take to support your cardiovascular system. With a bit of knowledge, it’s easy to make positive choices and sensible lifestyle decisions that will keep you in control of your heart health.
Your 20s are all about awareness. Although heart health isn’t something we usually think about in our 20s, it’s a great time to get baseline measurements on your heart health, as well as learn about any family history issues surrounding heart health.
Ask your provider to check:
High blood pressure (hypertension) occurs when our blood exerts too much force, or pressure, on the walls of our blood vessels. High blood pressure is usually a sign that something is constricting the walls of our blood vessels or arteries, causing the heart to have to work harder to force blood through a narrower space.
Cholesterol is a waxy substance that everyone’s liver produces naturally. Despite being necessary for many bodily processes, it can’t travel through the bloodstream alone. It has to be carried by a particle known as a lipoprotein. There are two lipoproteins produced by the liver: low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density lipoprotein (HDL).
The function of LDL is to deliver cholesterol to the cells. In contrast, HDL helps to sweep away excess LDL cholesterol, returning it to the liver to be discarded. If your body has too much LDL cholesterol, it will build up on the walls of your arteries, raising your risk for heart attack and blood clots, which may lead to a stroke.
Your 30s are a time of prevention. It’s important to make your health a priority by establishing regular health routines — which help prevent heart disease — if you haven’t already.
These can include:
• Crafting a healthy diet full of whole foods
• Finding ways to control stress
• Getting a good night’s rest
• Monitoring alcohol intake
• Participating in regular exercise
• Quitting smoking (if you smoke)
Continue to monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels with your provider.
It’s also recommended that adults who are overweight or obese start screening for type 2 diabetes in their mid 30s and testing every three years, as diabetes is a risk factor for heart disease.
Your 40s are a time of monitoring. If you haven’t yet, it’s time to start getting familiar with your numbers — including blood pressure, cholesterol, and body mass index (BMI). (BMI is a mathematical formula that divides a person’s weight by the square of their height; the resulting number is used to place the person into one of eight bodyweight “categories.” While BMI is frequently used as a guide, many healthcare professionals dispute its accuracy in determining a person’s healthy weight.) You should start having these numbers monitored regularly, usually during your yearly physical. Work with your primary care provider to monitor any changes from year to year.
Depending on what they discover, your provider may order one of the following tests to further investigate the potential for cardiovascular disease, including:
• Electrocardiography (ECG or EKG)
• Exercise cardiac stress test
• Echocardiography or stress echocardiography
• Coronary CT angiography (CTA)
• Myocardial perfusion imaging (MPI), also called a nuclear stress test
Unfortunately, age is one risk factor for heart disease that you can’t control. This is why, as you age, it’s important to focus on the risk factors you can control. These include:
• Blood pressure
• Lifestyle habits (such as drinking alcohol and smoking)
• Proper sleep
• Stress reduction
And keep in mind that any age is a good age for positive changes. Many people think that when they’re in their 50s, it’s too late to start new healthy habits — or quit the not-so-healthy ones — but that’s simply not the case. For example, no matter your age, quitting smoking decreases your risk of a heart attack in only 24 hours.
In your 60s, you will see how taking care of your health can pay off. The goal of all of this care is a long, active, and healthy life. Make sure to keep up with your regular screenings (and any additional screenings that your doctor may recommend).
As we age, it’s common for blood, pressure, cholesterol levels, and other heart-related numbers to rise. Keep track of these numbers as they are checked, and be sure to let your provider know of any changes that come up (if they aren’t already aware).
No matter what your age, it’s important to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, one of the leading causes of death in the United States.
When it comes to a heart attack, seconds matter. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack can help save lives.
• Chest pain and tightness
• Pain that radiates to the shoulders, neck, jaw, or arms
• Shortness of breath
And may be accompanied by:
• Lightheadedness and dizziness
• Extreme fatigue
It’s important to note that people who were assigned female at birth are more likely to experience symptoms that are not related to chest pain, and this has historically led to later diagnosis of heart issues. Understanding all of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack can help you make an informed decision about when to seek help.
If you believe you or a loved one is experiencing a heart attack, call 911 immediately.
And remember, you don't need to wait until you’re having heart problems to speak to our providers. At Carbon Health, we’re here to partner with you — whether you're experiencing uncomfortable symptoms or simply want to create a plan for better heart health today. Book an appointment.
Carbon Health’s medical content is reviewed and approved by healthcare professionals before it is published, but it is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Talk to your healthcare provider about questions you may have regarding your health or a medical condition, and before making changes to your healthcare routine.