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Sunday 25 February 2018

You're never too young to have a heart attack

Image showing a woman over 45 in a bedroom holding her hands in a heart shape. The picture illustrates an article on blog Is This Mutton? about how to stay healthy and active to avoid heart disease in early middle age.
The tragic deaths of Indian film star Sridevi at just 54, and British comedy actress Emma Chambers, aged 53, have shone a light on heart attacks and how they are claiming more women at younger ages.
Coronary heart disease is often seen as something that affects older women, yet more young women than ever before are at risk.

The reaction to both deaths was that the women were too young to have had heart disease. Sometimes we have congenital heart disease which we aren't aware of, and there are famous cases involving  professional sportspeople, among them Fabrice Muamba.

But the majority of heart attacks result from risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, all of which are on the increase. Antibiotics found in meat, pesticides and gluten have also been implicated. A 2011 study from Sweden found that antibiotics alter the body’s micro biome and healthy gut bacteria, and in turn can lead to heart disease.

Stress may also play a role in heart disease risk. Women in their 50s often have high levels of stress from being the "sandwich generation" - looking after elderly parents who may not be in good health, and needy young people who may still live at home.

Know the symptoms of heart disease

The symptoms of a heart attack often look different in women than in men.

Although women sometimes experience chest pain, 40 percent of those who have a heart attack do not. Pain in the back, arm or jaw can also be signs.

Women may also have shortness of breath, indigestion, sweating, experience an overwhelming sense of doom or simply feel different.

Avoiding heart disease

The British Heart Foundation says there are six ways you can keep your heart healthy.

Healthy eating

Image showing a chopping board with oranges and lemons to illustrate an article on blog Is This Mutton? about how women over the age of 40 can safeguard themselves from heart disease

A well balanced diet that covers all the food groups is advised. This should include plenty of fruit and vegetables - at least five portions;  starchy foods such as bread, rice, potatoes and pasta (choose wholegrain varieties wherever possible); some milk and dairy products, some meat, fish, eggs, beans and other non-dairy sources of protein, and just a small amount of foods and drinks high in fats and/or sugar. Saturated fats and trans fats, found in shop pastry and baked goods, raise cholesterol levels which is linked to heart disease. Choose options that are lower in fat, salt and sugar whenever you can.

Don't drink too much alcohol

If you drink alcohol, it's important to keep within the recommended guidelines - whether you drink every day, once or twice a week or just occasionally. In the UK the guidelines are no more than 14 units of alcohol each week for men and women. This equals 6 pints of average strength beer a week, which would mean a low risk of illnesses such as liver disease or cancer. The previous guidelines were 21 units for men and 14 units for women per week. A standard glass of wine is usually 175ml  and often up to 13% ABV, which adds up to 2.3 units.

Staying Active

If you don't exercise as you get to middle age, you'll start to lose your freedom, not to mention increasing the likelihood of heart disease. UK government advice is that over a week, activity for adults aged 19 to 65 should add up to at least 150 minutes (2½ hours) of moderate intensity activity in bouts of 10 minutes or more. One way to approach this is to do 30 minutes on at least
5 days a week. More in the fact sheet here.

Find something you like  (my article here has some real-life examples) and do it often. Ideally you should do something cardiovascular that gets you breathless, such as fast or Nordic walking, running or cycling; something to improve flexibility, like Pilates or yoga, and something involving muscle resistance to improve your strength and your bones.

Manage your weight

The British Heart Foundation says research shows that reaching and keeping to a healthy weight cuts your risk of heart disease because it helps prevent and manage conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes. Fat around your middle is particularly bad. Visceral fat around your organs can increase your risk of getting heart disease, cancer and type 2 diabetes. That's because these fat cells produce toxic substances that cause damage to your body. Slim people can often have a high reading of visceral fat.


It goes without saying that giving up smoking is the single best thing you can do for your heart health. Smoking damages the lining of your arteries, leading to a build up of fatty material (atheroma) which narrows the artery. This can cause angina, a heart attack or a stroke.

The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood. This means your heart has to pump harder to supply the body with the oxygen it needs.

The nicotine in cigarettes stimulates your body to produce adrenaline, which makes your heart beat faster and raises your blood pressure, making your heart work harder.

Your blood is more likely to clot, which increases your risk of having a heart attack  or stroke.  Take a look at our cardiovascular disease page to find out more about blood clots and the damage they can do to your body.

If you need help on giving up, the BHF has a booklet you can download.

Reduce stress

Stress is not a direct risk factor for cardiovascular disease, but it's possible that it may contribute to your risk level. It all depends on your coping mechanisms.Some people cope with stress with risky behaviour – such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol and overeating. All of these increase your risk of cardiovascular disease.

If you have coronary heart disease and experience feelings of anxiety or are under lots of stress, it may bring on symptoms like angina.

A balanced diet and regular exercise can help to alleviate stress. Sleeping well (check out my tips here) and finding an activity that is relaxing also help.

Sharing this post with Creative Mondays at Claire Justine and #SaturdayShare at Not Dressed as Lamb.

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  1. LOVE YOUR SHEEP!! So precious.

    Great tips. I do okay with everything but the stress. I am a worrier and have at least one night a week when I toss and turn all night long. Working on that, though.

    And I need to eat my fruit and veggies. Working on that, too.

    Thank you for these reminders. XO

  2. Fabulous informative post Gail.


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