When I’m 64: aging and women’s heart disease

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“The frightening thing about middle age is knowing you’ll grow out of it.”  – Doris Day

WomenHeart, September 2009 – “These days, many women like hearing that 40 is the new 30, but recent studies point to declining life expectancy rates among women, as obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure rates increase.

“Many women do know that they face significant heart health hurdles as they head into their golden years, but successfully navigating those challenges can be tricky for someone of any age. While women can still expect an average life expectancy of around 80 years of age, it’s no fun to spend those years in poor health.  

Female physiology is a key factor in heart disease among older women, creating unique health concerns that are not shared by men as they age, possibly because women experience a dramatic decrease in estrogen after menopause.

“The Women’s Health Initiative, a 15-year study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the National Institutes of Health, looked at trends in cardiovascular disease among postmenopausal women. This  longterm study began in 1991 and included more than 68,000 participants between the ages of 50 and 79.

“Researchers examined how hormone therapy affected heart disease, eventually concluding that estrogen supplements did not reduce the risk of heart attack in postmenopausal women and actually increased the risk of stroke. The American Heart Association currently recommends that women should not take hormone therapy to reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke.

“Menopause is not the only heart disease risk factor facing women as they age. Stress is also a major concern, and was cited by researchers at Wake Forest University Medical Center, who found evidence that factors such as stress, lack of exercise, and poor diet may increase heart disease risk among younger women that will only worsen as they enter menopause.

Financial disparities can also affect women’s health as they age, often because they spend fewer overall years in the workforce than men and earn less money compared to men, resulting in lower retirement benefits, and also because they may live with disabilities longer than men – simply because women do live longer than men.

“And the research continues. A study at Rush University in Chicago concluded that increased risk of heart disease in older women may also be linked to the natural rise in testosterone levels that accompanies menopause — causing researchers to rethink the theory that premenopausal women’s hearts are protected by estrogen.  (See also: Women’s Low Iron Stores May Protect Against Heart Disease and Why Are Gynecologists Still Prescribing Hormone Therapy Despite Known Risks? )

“Your longevity is a gift that you should enjoy, so knowing that women face increased heart health risks with age could be the key to your success. Dr. Jay Kaplan of the Wake Forest University Medical Center suggests that pre-menopausal women should be thinking about heart disease prevention before their risk factors increase:

“We found that the five years before menopause are when heart vessel disease begins to accelerate.”

“But no matter what your age, now is the time to invest in your heart through a heart-healthy diet, daily exercise, giving up tobacco and stress reduction activities.

“And if 40 is the new 30, then that must mean that 60 is the new 50 — so take heart!

To learn more about women, aging, and heart disease, visit WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease who published this article originally in their September 2009 issue of their members’ newsletter, Heart To Heart.

What do you think?  

2 thoughts on “When I’m 64: aging and women’s heart disease

  1. Thanks for this – a good overview of what many of us younger women don’t even think about during the years when we actually COULD be making important lifestyle improvements to prevent these heart issues as we age. A MUST READ for young women especially.


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