Healthy Aging 2024: Thriving Beyond Heart Disease

This week on Fox17, Dr. Diana Bitner explains that women often state their most important goal is to have more energy, little to no limitations, and to do what they want for as long as they wish. For this goal to become a reality, we need to have a healthy heart and blood vessels. How does heart disease happen? When plaque builds up in the vessel walls, it makes the vessels stiff, which inhibits their ability to expand and bring blood to the heart. When there is a restriction in blood vessels due to plaque buildup, that is when many people experience exertion-induced shortness of breath. This shortness of breath can be an early sign of preventable heart disease!

So what can we do to prevent heart disease?

Fact #1: 

Know your risk factors and input them into a scoring system. Check out Reynold’s Score to calculate your risk! To calculate your risk of heart disease, the scoring system takes the following into account:

  • Age
  • Family history; evidence of 1st degree heart block or heart disease before the age of 60
  • Phase of ovarian function
  • A1C blood level
  • Blood pressure
  • Cholesterol levels, including advanced lipid markers
  • Waist circumference 
  • Coronary Artery Calcium score

Fact #2:

Act early to prevent heart disease, as plaque can start to build up at a young age. The process of plaque buildup can accelerate after menopause. Keep in mind that a woman’s risk for heart disease will be greater than a man’s by five years after menopause. Try incorporating these practices to build healthier habits:

  • 150 minutes a week of moderate exercise. Usually around 20 minutes per day!
  • Work to keep your A1C blood sugar under 5.7
  • Even if it means utilizing medication, keep your blood pressure under 120/70
  • Eat a Mediterranean diet with lots of fish, lean meats, vegetables, and whole grains.
  • Keep your lipid markers in a healthy range
  • Quit smoking

Patient Story: 

Jane came to see me because she was struggling. She was in menopause and having a more challenging time keeping up with friends on walks, getting winded on the stairs, and having hot flashes after walking down her long driveway to the mailbox. Jane thought her menopause was acting up-but I told her hormone-related hot flashes don’t start fresh after ten years of menopause. After reviewing her labs, we started piecing together the puzzle. Jane’s A1C was 6.2, and she was almost diabetic. Jane’s waist was 37 inches, her blood pressure was mildly high at 140/85, and her cholesterol was high with an LDL (Low-density lipoprotein) of 150. Her mom had diabetes and died of heart failure. Jane did not want that to happen to her! Quickly, we had Jane do a stat stress test, which was positive. Then the heart catheterization showed she had a blockage. The good news is that Jane was able to have a stent ( or tube) placed to open up the blood flow. This procedure made her feel so much better, and lucky, Jane had another chance! She was telling all her friends not to wait like she did!

Health Tip of the Week: 

To age with high energy and low risk for heart disease, the first step is to ask yourself. “Why do I want this?” Whether it is for your 25th-anniversary trip or dancing at your child’s wedding, what matters most to you? Assessing your current health status and risks is crucial to determine if they align with your desires. Identify the factors that can bridge the gap, then formulate a plan. Next, take action and regularly measure your progress! 


Watch the full segment at minute 9:03.