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The Seasons of a Woman's Heart

CBN.com - Here’s a look at a woman’s heart through the decades and some important tips for keeping it strong.

The Terrific Twenties

At age twenty-four, Jody was ready to conquer the world. Having just graduated from university, she had a well-paying job, a new apartment two states removed from her parents’ home, and big dreams for her life ahead. Jody was thrilled about being totally on her own now. She planned to live her own life without the shadow of Mom and Dad’s rules hanging over her. But it only took Jody a week to realize that she couldn’t live without some rules. Showing up late for work two mornings, she drew a stern reprimand from her supervisor. So she bought a reliable clock radio and set the alarm for six o’clock. She also made sure to get her train fare on her way home each night so she wouldn’t have to stop at the ATM in the morning. Jody knew if she didn’t develop some good habits early, the independent life she had always dreamed about would be nothing more than that: a dream.

As Jody discovered, this first decade of adulthood is the time to set productive lifestyle patterns. The twenties is also the time to establish good heart health habits that will benefit you for the rest of your life. As a growing teenager, you could get by without paying close attention to what you ate. But when the growing years are over, maintaining normal weight for your height means eating healthy foods and getting sufficient exercise. Resist the temptation to plan your diet around convenience and cost. Learn to prepare meals that are nutritious and well balanced, keeping the total number of calories low. It can be done—even on a limited budget.

Join a gym, take aerobic classes at the local community center, or invest in a stair-stepper, dumbbells, or an exercise machine. If you can’t afford these exercise options, get into running, walking, or working out with one of dozens of video programs you can buy for pocket change at a garage sale. Start your life healthy, and you will likely stay healthy. Your twenties is the best time in your life to launch into a Total Heart Health lifestyle! The most important decision you can make for your heart at this stage is to not smoke—or to stop smoking if you got into it as a teenager. Smoking is a heart killer. 

The Thrilling Thirties

Childbearing can take a toll on a woman’s figure, and a busy life of career and/or homemaking and parenting can seriously challenge her commitment to a regimen of diet and exercise. As one thirty-something woman groused, “I’ve got a husband, three young children—two of them still in diapers, and a part-time job. And I’m supposed to exercise thirty minutes a day? Get serious!” Yes, the career and/or family demands at this stage can be taxing. It will take some creative planning to maintain a Total Heart Health lifestyle through the thirties. If you’re a mother, keep your eyes open for a gym, club, or community center that offers childcare for a nominal charge during exercise classes. Arrange a childcare swap with a friend, relative, or neighbor, allowing you to work out at home or at a club. And it is important to maintain healthy eating habits for you and your family. Your kids may not believe it at first, but prove to them that healthy meals served at the family dinner table can actually taste good! In the process, use this time to teach them about good nutrition. Often during this decade, hypertension (high blood pressure) and lipid (cholesterol) abnormalities begin to manifest themselves. It’s important to schedule regular checkups with your physician so any problems can be diagnosed early and treated.

The Fabulous Forties

As a single career woman, Abby took full advantage of one of the great perks her company offered: health-club membership. She worked out at the club for thirty to forty minutes several times a week. But another “work perk” backfired on her. She was responsible for entertaining clients for breakfast or lunch, so she was eating out on the company nickel three or four days a week. Even though she enjoyed the food and loved making clients happy, she began to put on a few pounds—despite her workout routine. Abby realized she had to be more careful when she scanned the menu. When she was, her exercise program helped get her back to her target weight.

Women in their forties are fully involved in career pursuits, family activities, or both. This is the decade when some women begin to put on weight. Increased earnings and a higher standard of living often accompany career success at this stage. And with more discretionary income comes the temptation to eat richer foods and dine out more often, resulting in greater calorie intake. Some women eat more at this stage in response to stress and life pressures. Also, as energy begins to wane, forty-something women may become lax when it comes to exercise, resulting in fewer calories burned. More calories taken in coupled with fewer calories worked out equals weight gain. Disciplined diet and exercise are a must at this stage to avoid unwanted pounds. For many women, menopause begins in the mid-to late forties. During menopause, the ovaries, which have produced eggs for four decades or more, begin to shut down production. And since the developing eggs supply estrogen, that supply decreases as menopause approaches and then ceases altogether. Important note: any signs of high blood pressure or cholesterol problems must be treated aggressively with medication. This is also the time for your doctor to check for the presence of latent diabetes, especially if you are overweight.

The Fantastic Fifties

This is the decade when many women ride an emotional and hormonal roller coaster. For those who married and started families in their twenties, the kids are grown and leaving home for college, marriage, and career. Those who delayed parenting until midlife may still have children at home, but the empty nest is within sight. It’s a time to get serious about the plans, dreams, vacations, and hobbies you just didn’t have time for while the kids were still at home. And with education expenses reduced, now’s the time to get that fitness club membership you always wanted. Concurrent with the empty nest experience, menopause concludes. The disappearance of estrogen allows good cholesterol (HDL) to decrease and bad cholesterol (LDL) to increase. So if you are in your fifties, it is very important to closely monitor your cholesterol and blood pressure and keep your weight in check.

The Sensational Sixties—and Beyond

It is during their sixties when most women see the first clear manifestation of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Therefore, any noticeable change in health, such as the sudden onset of fatigue or flulike symptoms, should be taken seriously, and medical treatment should be sought right away. As always, proper nutrition, along with vitamin supplementation and medication for hypertension and cholesterol abnormalities, should be faithfully continued during this stage. It is also important at this stage of life to keep exercising. You probably won’t be able to crank the treadmill up to top speed like you did when you were thirty or forty, but the good news is you don’t need to. Just maintain an active life as much as possible and spend at least thirty minutes a day in some form of regimented exercise: walking or jogging (on the treadmill, in the neighborhood, or in the local indoor mall), playing a sport such as tennis or paddleball, or working out on a resistance machine set to accommodate your level of strength.

A lot has been written and discussed recently about hormone replacement therapy (HRT). At first HRT was widely recommended by doctors for most women past “the change” to relieve postmenopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes and bone loss, and to aid in the prevention of cardiovascular disease. However, the most recent American Heart Association guidelines do not recommend hormone replacement therapy for primary or secondary prevention of heart disease or for use in women with known heart disease. Studies do not show a significant benefit in heart disease prevention, and the use of HRT raises the possibility of a short-term increase in risk.

Most cardiologists agree that hormones may be considered for non-heart benefits, including symptomatic relief of menopause.1 However, because the complications of HRT use increase the longer it is used,HRT should be used only for the shortest time necessary. Women should weigh the risks of HRT and discuss them with their doctor.

No matter what decade you find yourself in, physical heart health is both important and achievable. Don’t allow the duties and demands of these normal life stages to rob your heart of the care it deserves. Whether you’re a single twenty-something or a grandmother, now is the time to establish a healthy heart lifestyle.


Copyright © 2006 by Ed and JoBeth Young, Dr. Michael Duncan, and Dr. Richard Leachman, Reprinted with permission from Total Heart Health for Women , W Publishing Group.

ENDNOTES

1. S. Hully, Journal of the American Medical Association 280 (1998): 605 (HERS trial). D. M. Herrington, ERA trial, New England Journal of Medicine 343 (2000): 522 (ERA trial). Writing Group for Women's Health Initiative, Journal of the American Medical Association 288 (2002): 321. Writing Group for Women's Health Initiative, Journal of the American Medical Association 291 (2004): 1701.

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