Menopause often affects a woman’s heart health. For post-menopausal women, a healthy lifestyle can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease, which is the leading cause of death for women.
The risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease increases in the menopausal years. Dr. Paula Harvey, director of the cardiovascular research program at Women’s College Hospital, notes that menopausal women are prone to cardiac problems due to changes that occur during menopause.
“When a woman loses ovarian estrogen it adversely affects her cardiovascular risk factor profile,” says Dr. Harvey.
Women who are going through menopause need to be aware of the physiological changes that increase their risk of cardiovascular disease. These factors include:
- body weight increase with fat re-distribution to the abdominal area
- “bad” cholesterol increase and “good” cholesterol decrease
- blood pressure increase
Lifestyle changes can provide immediate benefits in women’s overall health, especially cardiac health.
Some of Dr. Harvey’s research focuses on the potential reduction of cardiac fatalities with the help of exercise. Dr. Harvey states that several research scenarios have proven that integrating physical activity and proper nutrition will greatly reduce cardiovascular health risks.
“Exercise is the perfect lifestyle intervention. As soon as you start exercising, your cardiovascular health – and in fact your general overall health – will start to improve,” says Dr. Harvey.
Making physical activity part of your daily routine can:
- improve the health of blood vessels
- reduce blood pressure
- increase “good” cholesterol
- reduce depressive symptoms
- reduce diabetes risks and complications
Reassessing risks before menopause
Dr. Harvey notes that women who are nearing menopause should also start reassessing their lifestyle in order to prevent additional health risks that are linked to menopause. Women aged 35 to 55 often experience social and family changes in their lives that may include:
- children leaving the home
- changes in diet and eating habits
- less time for exercise
Consulting their doctor during this period of their life is essential in order to be aware of their baseline cardiovascular risk.
Lifestyle changes that premenopausal and post-menopausal women should start making to improve their cardiac health include:
- walking to keep the body active
- reducing daily salt intake
- living in a smoke-free environment
- limiting alcohol intake to a maximum of nine drinks per week
- avoiding trans fat or processed foods
- maintaining a healthy sleep pattern
Making your health a priority
Anyone can make small changes for greater health outcomes; even those with mobility issues, chronic conditions or issues such as osteoarthritis, which may limit physical activity and functional health.
Dr. Harvey advises that supervised cardiac primary prevention and rehabilitation programs can help these women improve their functional health. These programs offer a personalized approach to care.
Women need to be empowered to seek care and make changes for a lifetime of good health. Post-menopausal women can get significant benefits from reassessing their own risks and making healthy changes.
“It is never too late to start exercising, to stop smoking, to make positive lifestyle modifications,” says Dr. Harvey. “It is never too late to take control of your own health because you will see the changes right away.”
This information is provided by Women’s College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: Feb. 13, 2014