Switch Up Your Strategy
Unfortunately, this is often the age when the scale starts to shift. "Women will tell me they can't maintain their weight even though they haven't changed how they're eating and exercising," says Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. It's time to rethink your diet. Belly fat, especially, can be traced directly to simple carbs, like cake, candy, or alcohol. "My patients are surprised when I tell them to limit themselves to one alcoholic beverage a day," Goldberg says. "Although studies suggest beer, wine, and spirits in moderation may reduce your risk of heart disease, you can get too much of a good thing."
Learn Your Calorie Burn
It's one thing to count calories coming in—through your meals. It's another to track calories going out—particularly when you're not exercising. "If you know how many calories you're burning overall, you can create a more accurate calorie budget to reach your weight-loss goals," says Holly Parker, PhD, a lecturer in the psychology department at Harvard University and a certified personal trainer. Visit livestrong.com to estimate your burn rate.
Get In-Depth Testing
In addition to an annual blood pressure screening, your doctor may order an EKG if you have a family history of heart attacks at a young age. A heart-focused CT scan to look for calcifications in your arteries might also be useful if you are 45 or older, have moderately high cholesterol, or have a family history of heart disease, says Samaan.
Don't Push Through Pain
Christine Wanamaker, a 49-year-old mom of two in Laguna Niguel, California, and an American Heart Association Go Red for Women campaign spokesperson, had ongoing leg pain for four months before the day her life changed three years ago. "I was doing playground duty at my kids' school and was carrying a lightweight table when I felt intense radiating pain in my chest," she recalls. "That, along with the pain in my left arm, told me something was wrong." When she arrived at the ER, she was immediately given four baby aspirin. Ultimately, she had a quadruple bypass. Leg pain can be a warning sign that you're at high risk for a heart attack. Don't self-diagnose—ask your doctor.
Research Nearby Hospitals
Hope for the best but prepare for the worst by looking up your local medical centers' credentials online. "If you have a history of heart disease or diabetes, you'll want to know which hospitals nearby are following guidelines for good cardiovascular care," says Rose Marie Robertson, MD, chief science and medical officer of the American Heart Association. For a list of hospitals in your area accredited by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association, go to familycircle.com/heart.
Try a One-Minute Fix
Work up to holding a plank for 60 seconds or do walking lunges while you watch TV. Hopefully, a taste of strength training will make you hungry for more, since a full workout can help lower your blood pressure by a few points, Parker says. Start small and build to big results.
Snack on a Red Bean Dip
Not only are beans low in fat, but they're high in fiber and can help improve cholesterol levels. Seek out colorful beans (like red ones) for their extra flavonoids, which can protect against heart disease. Taub-Dix suggests blending 1 can drained red kidney beans, 1/2 cup Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 teaspoon cumin, 1 tablespoon sliced scallions, and 1/2 cup diced avocado, salt and pepper. Serve with crunchy veggies.