7 Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Heart Disease


Why does heart health matter so much? Cardiovascular disease is the #1 killer of women over 50 - so much so, that twice as many women die from it than cancer. And our risk increases after menopause. In fact, postmenopausal women have a relative risk for coronary artery disease 2.7 times as high as age-matched premenopausal women. Women who start their period before age 12, or who begin menopause before the age of 45, also have an increased risk.

Genetics may play a role in development of cardiovascular disease but research supports that lifestyle changes play a significant role in heart disease prevention. The INTERHEART Study followed 30,000 people in 52 countries. Researchers found that changing lifestyle could prevent a whopping 90 percent of all heart disease. In 2013, a study looked at the role of nutrition and nutraceutical supplements in the treatment of hypertension. It was found that nutrient-gene interactions and epigenetics was a predominant factor in promoting benefit or detrimental effects on cardiovascular health and hypertension. Epigenetics are the biological mechanisms that will switch genes on and off.

The bottomline on women’s heart health

Lifestyle choices related to food, sleep, stress, exercise, smoking, and environmental toxin exposure change gene expression which can increase or reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. This means that these are modifiable risk factors that can be influenced by the choices we make on a daily basis. No matter what your age, there are easy, small changes you can make to lower your risk.

7 lifestyle changes that move the needle

1. Eat well. Eat a healthy, nutrient dense diet plentiful in colorful vegetables and fruit, low in processed grains, flours and refined sugar. Choose healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, avocado, nuts, wild salmon and flax seeds. When possible choose organic to avoid pesticide residues. Organic, grass fed meats are preferable which have a better omega-3 fatty acid content and avoid the use of antibiotics and pesticides.

2. Prioritize sleep. Poor quality and quantity of sleep leads to inflammation, fatigue, poor blood sugar control and cravings for sweets. Most people need 7-8 hours nightly.

3. Stay Active. Remember, sitting is considered the new smoking. A sedentary lifestyle and poor fitness in middle age is a strong predictor of future risk of heart failure. A study by the Cleveland Clinic found that a sedentary lifestyle is worse for your health than smoking, diabetes and heart disease. Get up from sitting every hour and walk. Find some movement you enjoy every day!

4. Reduce your personal toxins. Toxins are everywhere in our daily environment and increase risk of cardiovascular disease and “diabesity” (diabetes and obesity). They are obesogens and disrupt hormones in the body which may contribute risk of breast cancer.

5. Manage stress. Stress increases inflammation, alters glucose metabolism and increases blood pressure. Exercise, meditation, breath techniques, Yoga, Tai Chi, and Heart Math all help to reduce the stress response.

6. Get expert help. Consider an integrative, functional medicine consult for a risk assessment with a review of your modifiable risk factors and advanced testing which may include LDL particle analysis, homocysteine, hsCRP, fasting insulin and glucose, oxidized LDL and nutrient levels.

7. Sign up for Lisa Health. Lisa Health has heart health challenges that help you make small lifestyle changes that add up to big payoffs. Sign up for challenges that help you eat well, sleep better, stay active, reduce personal toxins, and stress less. To help you achieve your goal, you’ll get curated resources, reminders and tips, education, and a community of women for support.

To learn more, read my blog on Your Heart and Menopause.

Whether cardiovascular disease is part of your life today, or you’re looking for ways to help prevent it, we’re here for you! Making small changes adds up. For more information and support for your heart health during menopause and midlife, join us at Lisa Health.

Dr. Melissa Young is board-certified in Internal Medicine and is a Certified Functional Medicine specialist through the Institute for Functional Medicine. She has completed a two-year Residential Integrative Medicine Fellowship with the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona, Tucson, studying with Andrew Weil, a pioneer in the field of Integrative Medicine. Dr. Young practices Functional Medicine at the Center for Functional Medicine at Cleveland Clinic and specializes in women’s health.