If you're in your 20s, 30s or 40s, you might believe you have plenty of time before you need to start thinking about your heart health and your chances of having a heart attack.
But new research shows that heart attacks – often associated with older men – are increasingly occurring in younger people, especially women. Researchers studied more than 28,000 people hospitalized for heart attacks from 1995 to 2014, and they found that the rate of heart attacks in patients ages 35 to 54 has increased from 27 percent to 32 percent.
Taking care of your heart in your 20s, 30s and 40s not only protects you and your heart now, it also helps you ensure a longer, healthier future. Here's what you need to know about heart problems in young adults – and what you can do to lower your risk of having a heart attack at a young age.
Lower Your Blood Pressure
Young adults with even slightly above-normal blood pressure may be more likely to have heart problems later in life, so it's important to get your blood pressure check at least once a year.
If your blood pressure is higher than 120/80 – even on a single reading – you need to take it seriously and consult your doctor.
Lower Your Cholesterol
Just like high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels in your 20s, 30s and 40s raise your risk for heart disease and stroke. Obesity, lack of physical exercise and a diet that includes too much sugar and too many processed foods are often the culprits.
Lifestyle and dietary changes can usually bring high cholesterol levels under control. Start by reducing your intake of saturated and trans fats, and get your body moving. If diet and physical activity alone don't lower your cholesterol numbers, your doctor may recommend medication.
It's common knowledge that smoking causes breathing problems and lung cancer. But did you k now it also makes you more likely to have a heart attack? People who smoke are two to four times more likely to get heart disease.
If you're a young adult who smokes, make a commitment to quit before it's too late.
Work Toward a Healthy Weight
Obesity rates in adults between the ages of 20 and 39 are rising, and research shows that obesity-related conditions like heart disease and stroke are leading causes of preventable, premature death.
A healthy diet and physical activity are two of the best weapons you have against obesity and heart disease as a young adult. Choose a diet full of nutrient-rich foods like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts, and aim for at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week.
Reduce Your Stress
Stress is an unavoidable part of life even when you're young, but how you react to it can lead to a number of health problems.
Stress can lead to behaviors and factors – think high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, physical inactivity, and overeating – that increase your risk of heart disease. Exercising, not smoking, enjoying a healthy diet and maintaining a positive attitude are good ways to deal with stress and keep your heart healthy.