Here are three facts about heart disease that are essential to understand.
Did you know that heart disease is the leading killer among women? And that more than one in three adult females has some sort of cardiovascular disease? Did you know that there is an overall increase in heart attacks in women about ten years post menopause?
I personally had no idea, and now I want to make sure that YOU know this too!
5 heart-healthy strategies for menopausal women
Estrogen levels may play a role in heart disease.
A decline in the natural hormone, estrogen, may be a factor in heart disease increase among post-menopausal women. Estrogen appears to have a positive effect on the arterial wall, keeping blood vessels flexible, which means they can relax and expand to accommodate blood flow.
After menopause, the arterial walls tend to stiffen, which can obstruct blood flow, leading to an increase in blood pressure. Additionally, LDL cholesterol, or “bad” cholesterol, tends to increase while HDL, or “good” cholesterol, declines or stays the same. Triglycerides, a type of fat in the blood also tends to increase.
Don’t despair though! There are many, many ways to keep your heart and blood vessels happy as you go through the midlife transition.
How can we improve heart health without a focus on intentional weight loss?
Most of the recommendations for improving heart health are focused on intentional weight loss, which can be quite triggering to anyone working to create a peaceful relationship with food. It is increasingly difficult for those practicing intuitive eating to learn how they can continue listening to their body’s hunger and fullness cues while promoting their heart health.
I always counsel my clients to work on changing behaviors within their control and recognize that body weight is not a behavior. Your body is not to blame. People in all size bodies develop elevated cholesterol and are at risk of heart disease. And don’t forget that genetics plays a significant role too.
With regards to heart health, consider exploring gentle nutrition and intuitive eating when you are ready. Remember to approach this process with curiosity rather than judgement; On a personal note, it happened to me!! This registered dietitian developed elevated cholesterol, and I will share 5 strategies that helped.
Think about adding, not subtracting foods!
- Consider incorporating more fruits and vegetables into your diet that leave you feeling satisfied. Foods high in antioxidants, such as fruits and vegetables, have heart healthy properties. If you have never enjoyed a fruit or vegetable, experiment with different types and flavor combinations. Consider starting with just ONE serving, so you don’t feel overwhelmed. As an example, I have made a point of adding a piece of fruit to my first meal of the day, so I don’t forget!
- Include a plant-based, vegetarian meal. Plant-based meals are higher in fiber than traditional meat-based meals and can help lower blood cholesterol levels. Examples include legumes, tofu, nuts, and seeds, among others. Here’s a quick suggestion: When making chili con carne or spaghetti with meat sauce, use half the normal amount of meat and substitute either red lentils or red kidney beans (precooked or canned).
- Move your body. Consider finding joyful ways to move your body within your capacity. This can look like a walk, dancing in the living room, or even finding a curvy yoga instructor who knows how to accommodate various levels of experience and flexibility. If standing movement is challenging, sitting movement works too! Stretching can help get the blood flowing.
- Find ways of incorporating Vitamin D and Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Some dietary sources include fatty fish (salmon, sardines, mackerel), egg yolks, foods fortified with vitamin D like fortified cereals, mushrooms, nuts and seeds, and plant oils. Supplements can be very effective if you are not sure you are getting adequate amounts.
- Manage stress. Stress is a part of everyday life, but the added stress of the pandemic, juggling work, personal responsibilities and more can put us over the edge. Try and create time for yourself just dedicated towards self-care. It might be doing a guided meditation, journaling, or watching your favorite television show. Don’t hesitate to seek support in your loved ones and/or a mental health professional as needed.
Source: American Heart Association
Helping Women Make Peace With Food And Body Image
Erica Leon Nutrition supports a Health at Every Size® perspective to create an inclusive and respectful community, and support people of all sizes in finding compassionate ways to take care of themselves.
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