The Sandwich Generation and Heart Disease

Advances in medicine have helped to increase the average US life expectancy to almost 80. One unintenional result of this phenomenon is the “Sandwich Generation”: Adults who simultaneously care for aging parents and their own children.

“Sandwiched” caregivers are quite common, according to the Pew Research Center. About one out of every seven Americans between 40 and 60 years old financially supports both an aging parent and a child, according to a recent study. Moreover, 55 percent say that they provide emotional support for both their grown children and their parents.

Women often manage dual caretaking responsibilities, which increases the risk for anxiety, stress and depression.Women who live at home with a spouse, children and parents have double the risk for a coronary event (like a heart attack) compared with women who live only with a spouse, according to recent research.

Getting squeezed between caregiving roles can cause acute stress, with effects like headaches, indigestion, fatigue and anxiety. Furthermore, chronic stress can have tremendous long-term negative effects on heart health.

High levels of stress can increase the tendency toward unhealthy habits like overeating, smoking and decreased physical activity. These factors all can negatively affect heart disease risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.

This makes it particularly important for “sandwiched” women to protect their hearts. Early identification is key:

  • Get regular check-ups to identify traditional risk factors for heart disease; work with your physician to manage these risks.
  • Incorporate lifestyle changes to prevent heart disease, including physical activity, stress management, healthy food choices and adequate sleep.

Health Reminders for the Sandwich Generation

Women with too much on their plate can be reluctant to put themselves first—and often miss these opportunities to tend to their own health. Please remember to:

  • Find a primary care doctor you trust and schedule an annual visit. If needed, take a day off from work or schedule the appointment with enough notice so that it occurs at a convenient time that you are not likely to cancel.
  • Schedule “me” time. Take time to listen to music, exercise, meditate or even visit a supermarket to stock up on good-for-you fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grain. Do any activity you find relaxing, even for 10 minutes.
  • Schedule sleep.The importance of enough sleep on heart health is becoming increasing well studied. While everyone’s sleep needs are different, seven to eight hours on average is recommended.
  • Ask for help. Even superheroes have sidekicks!
  • Accept imperfection. “Good enough” is often “perfect.”
  • Indulge when you can. Whether it’s a night out with a spouse or girlfriends or regular trips to a spa, treat yourself well so that you are more able to “put on the cape” and be a super hero.

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