Pair Up with a Friend
Let exercise do double duty by making it social too. "Connecting with others is an essential part of keeping your heart healthy," Parker says. "Walk with a friend during lunch hour at work. On weekends, challenge yourselves to walk one more block or hit a new trail."
Beware of More Than Hot Flashes
With menopause on the horizon (the average age is 51), your risk for heart attack and stroke increases. Some experts believe estrogen may be protective, helping to keep blood vessels flexible. You could experience heart palpitations too, due to changing hormones. Scientists are still researching how perimenopause and menopause specifically affect the heart. But, bottom line, it's better to go into this "change of life" as healthy as possible.
Revamp Your Routine
"Each woman has her own set of lifestyle habits that influence her risk of cardiovascular disease throughout the menopausal transition," says Elizabeth A. Jackson, MD, director of the Women's Heart Program at the University of Michigan Hospital and Health Systems. Diet, exercise, and stress levels are all important, but in general, stay fit and aim to keep your weight within 10% to 20% of the ideal. Your heart disease risk rises when you're overweight or obese.
Go Fish Twice a Week
Aim to eat fatty fish, like wild salmon, which is packed with omega-3 fatty acids that help decrease inflammation and control cholesterol levels, suggests Taub-Dix. Make a marinade by blending 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce, 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, and 1 finely minced garlic clove. Place salmon in a bowl and cover with marinade for 10 minutes. Transfer salmon to a baking sheet and cook (skin side down) for 15 minutes at 425 degrees.
Watch Underlying Conditions
By this decade, it's even more risky to ignore irregular test results. Viviann Ferea, 62, an education program assistant in San Jose, California, had hypertension for a decade before she got checked and was put on medication. "Although taking meds is no fun, my prescription recently changed to a two-in-one pill," says Ferea, who cautions against ignoring this silent killer. "I take it with my vitamins and feel like I'm doing something healthy instead of viewing myself as someone with a condition."
Request This Test
During your annual physical, consider asking for a specialized Vertical Auto Profile (VAP) test, a detailed lipid profile that helps identify plaque build-up in your arteries. "If that cholesterol test comes back abnormal, see a specialist," says Cynthia Thaik, MD, a cardiologist in Burbank, California, and author of Your Vibrant Heart.
Try a One-Minute Fix
Buy a pedometer to ensure that you're taking the recommended 10,000 steps a day (the equivalent of approximately 5 miles). It's good not just for your heart, but for your body and spirit as well.
Originally published in the February 2014 issue of Family Circle magazine.