Heart disease is the UK's biggest killer, claiming the lives of some 82,000 women each year. While certain risk factors are beyond your control, such as your age and genetic predisposition, there are things you can do to lower your risk.
Control your blood pressure
Women over the age of 55 should get their blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked regularly. If you have high blood pressure, your GP will advise on the best way to bring this down, which may include lifestyle changes and medication.
Eat a Mediterranean diet
Studies show that following a Mediterranean diet can have a protective effect on your heart health. Cut right back on red meat and saturated fat (<7% daily amount) and trans-fat (partially hydrogenated fats such as margarine or shortening) and opt for unsaturated fats instead. These can be monounsaturated fats (such as olive oil, almonds, and avocado) or polyunsaturated fats (such as sunflower oil, walnuts and sunflower seeds). Aim to eat plenty of fibre, whole grains, legumes, such as beans and peas, lots of fruits and vegetables, and oily fish.
There's evidence to suggest that drinking up to five units of alcohol per week can be beneficial for women over the age of 55. Be careful though. Drink more, and it can raise the levels of fats in the blood known as triglycerides and lead to high blood pressure, thereby increasing your risk. Five units equates to just two medium (175 ml) glasses of wine per week.
Exercise every day
Aim to exercise for 30-60 minutes every day – this can include things like walking the dog, swimming or gardening, as long as it gets your heart rate up. Your goal should be to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week.
Smoking damages the lining of the arteries, leading to a build-up of fatty material that narrows the artery, while the carbon monoxide found in tobacco reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood so that your heart has to work harder, and the blood is more likely to clot. The British Heart Foundation warns that people who smoke are almost twice as likely to have a heart attack as those who don't.
Make time to relax
While there is no evidence to suggest that stress alone causes coronary heart disease, it is thought it may contribute to the risk level by prompting women to drink more, smoke more and make poor diet choices. Find the time to relax and try to keep anxiety under control, either by getting out and exercising or trying yoga or meditation classes.
Three products that may help to keep you healthy:
Braun VitalScan 3 Wrist Blood Pressure Monitor BBP 2200, £39.99
Kwai heart & arteries (30 garlic tablets 30 Omega-3 fish oil capsules), £8.59
Mediterranean Diet for Beginners book, £7.66