Everyone faces an increased risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) as they get older. But the increase is sharper for women about 10 years after menopause.
Around the time of menopause, women's blood pressure starts to go up. Their levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol—known as bad cholesterol—and triglycerides tend to rise. And their level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol—known as good cholesterol—often remains the same or declines.
All of these factors can contribute to a hardening of the arteries associated with CVD. Having CVD increases the risk for heart attack and stroke.
How you can lower your risk
No matter your age, you can take care of your heart by following healthy habits. These healthy habits include:
- Not smoking. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), smoking contributes to lower HDL levels and increases the risk for blood clots associated with CVD.
- Following a diet high in nutrient-rich foods. That means eating meals that feature plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, poultry, fish, and nuts.
- Getting regular physical activity. To lower your risk for CVD, aim for at least 150 minutes of exercise every week. If you haven't been physically active for a while, start slowly. Even short bouts of exercise—such as a five-minute sprint to the bus stop or a 15-minute walk around the block—count toward your total.
- Getting your numbers checked. The AHA recommends that you have your cholesterol checked every five years. In addition, you should check your blood pressure at least every two years. Test your glucose (blood sugar) levels every three years.
- Taking meds, if needed. Take cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins, if prescribed by your doctor.