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Take Charge of Your Heart Health

Hey ladies! If you're over 50 like me, it's time we had a little heart-to-heart about - what else? - our hearts!

I don't need to tell you that as we get older, we need to be more vigilant about our health. And one of the most important things we need to keep an eye on is our cardiovascular system.

Why is heart health so crucial for us women over 50? Simple - heart disease is the #1 killer of women in America. It kills more women than all forms of cancer combined. Pretty scary, right?

The good news is there's so much we can do to take charge of our heart health. And the time to start is NOW, even if we feel perfectly fine. Prevention is key!

We need to know our cholesterol numbers. Ideally, your total cholesterol should be under 200, really 150 if you are looking for optimal levels, with an LDL ("bad") cholesterol under 100 and an HDL ("good") cholesterol over 50. But, don't stop there with just knowing your numbers is just one piece of the puzzle. Get your particles analyzed! High levels of HDL does not necessarily trump high levels of LDL, it's about size of the particles. This type of testing can be done with blood work, but must be requested. I personally did the Function Health profile offered by Dr. Mark Hyman. The extensive testing helped to uncover things that would have otherwise continued to be overlooked until too late.

In addition to blood work, one test I have heard several functional medicine doctors recommend all women over 50 consider is a coronary artery calcium scan. This quick and painless CT scan looks for calcium deposits in the arteries around your heart. These deposits can be an early sign of plaque buildup that may lead to heart disease down the road. I recently had mine done - easy-peasy!

Knowing your calcium score can help you and your doctor better determine your risk for a heart attack or stroke. And it allows you to be proactive, whether that means making lifestyle changes or going on medication.

If your numbers aren't looking so hot, don't panic! There's a lot you can do to improve them without necessarily having to take medication. Of course these are decisions that you and your healthcare team should make together, based on what is best for you.

First, take a look at your diet. Focus on eating more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based proteins. Ideally, cut out sweets, refined carbs, and red and processed meats. Eating this way helps lower LDL and raise HDL.

Exercise is key too. Many resources recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate activity like brisk walking. Combine cardio, a little HIIT, and strength training for optimal results. This strengthens your heart and helps control cholesterol.

Other smart lifestyle moves include managing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol, and of course - not smoking! Mindfulness meditation and yoga are both great for managing stress.

Finally, make sure you have a healthcare provider you like and trust to partner with you on your heart health journey. Always remember, you are ultimately in charge of your body and your health decisions. Ask questions and push for more in-depth testing beyond just a basic lipid panel if you're concerned.

The right doc will go beyond just doling out medications and take the time to discuss root causes and lifestyle changes with you. Lifestyle Medicine doctors are growing in numbers. Many providers are choosing this profession because they can see allopathic care isn't making people better. They will start with lifestyle and nutrition as a first step in healing. Nutrition professionals and health coaches can provide tremendous value here too.

The more empowered and proactive we are about our heart health after 50, the longer, more vibrant lives we'll be able to live! Our hearts deserve all the love and care we can give.

So get that screening scheduled, make exercise and healthy eating a priority, and find yourself an A-team of caring medical professionals. Your heart will thank you!

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