Heart Disease: Reducing the risk of CVD
Be healthy heart aware: All adults should be more aware of risks for heart disease and of actions that can be taken to reduce risks. This is particularly important for women at the time of the menopause and beyond. It has been estimated by the World Health Organisation that 80% of cardiovascular disease can be prevented by diet and lifestyle changes.
The menopause is the perfect time to review diet and lifestyle and make positive changes that can make a big difference. For women who are having troublesome menopausal symptoms, control of the symptoms may be needed first before attention can be given to important diet and lifestyle changes but discussion should still take place early and indeed, some changes such as reducing weight, stopping smoking and increasing exercise can in fact help to reduce symptoms.
Weight: Try very hard to maintain a healthy weight. Calculate your Body Mass Index (BMI); calculators are readily available: click here. Ideally a BMI of 25 or less is recommended. There is no magic answer to controlling weight and many women do gain weight at the menopause.
Diet and exercise: Eating 5 portions of fruit and vegetables per day, using whole-grain, high fibre foods, cutting down saturated fats and increasing mono and polyunsaturated fats combined with increasing exercise (brisk walking provides the same benefit as vigorous exercise) can all reduce heart disease risk. We should aim for 30 minutes of exercise 5 days per week. Aerobic exercise such as walking, cycling, swimming and dancing is recommended. A pedometer can be really helpful. Aiming for 10,000 steps per day is achievable and helps with weight loss, but for postmenopausal women, even 5,500 steps per day can meet the current general recommendation of at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. If you have not been used to exercising much previously, then start with small amounts and build up gradually. Many people are happy to walk alone or with one or two friends, while others prefer to join a club. To find a walking club in your area, visit www.ramblers.org.uk or www.ramblingclubs.com
Smoking: Stopping smoking can not only improve heart health but also bone health and should be a major consideration in menopausal women.
Blood pressure: Blood pressure is usually checked as part of a menopause assessment, and subsequently as part of the review for women who take HRT. It should be treated if found to be raised. Increasing exercise and weight loss can help to reduce blood pressure, but often drug therapy is needed.
Cholesterol: Since cholesterol levels increase with the changes at the menopause, checking of cholesterol level should also be considered as part of the menopause assessment. If cholesterol level is raised, the diet and lifestyle changes can help to reduce the level and it has been shown that a 10% reduction in LDL cholesterol can lead to a reduction in risk of CVD of up to 20%. Inclusion in the diet of plant sterols and stanols (found in some margarines, milk products and yogurts) can also lower cholesterol level by blocking the absorption of cholesterol from food during digestion and also by blocking the re-absorption of cholesterol which is made by the liver. Taking 2-2.5g of plant sterols per day is thought to lower LDL cholesterol by 10-15% when combined with a healthy diet.
For further information, please visit: www.checkforchange.co.uk
Heart UK, the cholesterol charity: www.heartuk.org.uk
The Heart Age Calculator will take you to another site. It will help if you know your Total Choleserol and Good Cholesterol levels, blood pressure and your parents medical history.