Approaching menopause? Take care of your heart now.

Nearing menopause? Time to think of your heart.

Midlife is a crucial time for women to protect their hearts, a new study shows. It found that healthy habits during the transition to menopause may help keep arteries from clogging as you age. Changes that often occur after menopause—higher blood pressure and cholesterol—raise a women’s risk of heart attacks and stroke.

But these findings suggest that women approaching menopause can reduce that risk with a healthy lifestyle.

3 heart-healthy habits

Researchers analyzed data on more than 1100 women who were between the ages of 42 to 52 when they enrolled in the study. These women were tracked from 1996 through 2016. To assess their lifestyle, researchers developed a healthy lifestyle score that measured three key metrics:

  • A heart-healthy diet.
  • Regular exercise.
  • Not smoking.

The women had yearly medical exams and completed surveys about their diet, how active they were and their tobacco use. And they had at least one coronary artery ultrasound. This test provided images of an artery that feeds the heart.

They found that women with the healthiest lifestyles—measured by their scores—had the healthiest arteries. Compared to women with the least healthy lifestyles, their arteries had less plaque buildup. They also had less thickening.

But very few of the women—only 1.7 percent—stuck to all three parts of a healthy lifestyle throughout the study. Of those three metrics, not smoking was linked with the healthiest arteries.

The message: As you get closer to menopause, think more about your heart health. If you smoke, one of the best things you can do for your health is quit. And if you don’t have healthy eating and exercise habits, start with small changes and build from there.

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