Heart Healthy Habits for Seniors
Heart disease is a critical issue in American healthcare and leads as the #1 killer of all Americans. Taking more people than all cancer deaths combined, heart disease claims a person’s life every 36 seconds. Those 65 years and older face increased risk for heart disease and should take extra care of their heart health to ensure longevity and a healthy life.
The term “heart disease” refers to a number of conditions impacting the heart, including coronary artery disease, heart attacks, strokes and heart failure. Not only can heart disease lead to complications like stroke or possibly death, but often victims of heart disease suffer other complications, such as disabilities, contributing to a reduced quality of life.
While some of the risk factors involved in heart disease may be out of your control- such as age, gender and family history- there are a number of factors you can control. Let’s take a look at these and any adjustments you can make to lower the risk of heart disease.
Improve Your Diet
You knew diet would be on here! Diet plays a huge role in your heart’s health. Ensuring the proper proteins and nutrients are available to repair and boost your body’s functioning is an important part in preserving your heart.
The Mediterranean diet is considered an utmost guide to heart health. It features foods often consumed by those living along the Mediterranean Sea. The New England Journal of Medicine found this diet helps reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and death by heart problems up to 30% while helping control blood sugar and preventing chronic disease.
The key components of this diet involve healthy fats such as olive oil, whole grains, vegetables and fruits. Included are moderate amounts of seafood, lean poultry, dairy and eggs. Red meats, fried foods, sweets and white flour-based products are not included in this diet and are known to exacerbate heart conditions.
Also heralded as successful are any other whole-food, plant-based diets. The most important aspect of changing your diet is transitioning incrementally and making choices you are most likely to stick with. The key is to cultivate long-term lifestyle changes that create a healthy, stable atmosphere for the heart to thrive.
Another major component of overall health and heart strength is exercise. Regular physical activity, where the heart reaches an aerobic zone, helps lower blood pressure and stabilize weight.
Doctors recommend at least 150 minutes a week – roughly 22 minutes a day – of moderate-intensity exercise. A good indication you are exercising at a “moderate-intensity” level is when you are active but can still maintain light conversation. Resistance training has also shown to stave off heart disease.
Know Your Health Metrics
There are a number of factors that can illuminate the condition your heart is currently in. Many of these measurements are taken during routine doctor visits and can be done with the help of a nurse or attendant. If you don’t know where you are with these measurements, then now is a good time to go find out.
Blood pressure- High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease. It is recommended that individuals have blood pressure checked at least annually. If you have high blood pressure then it is recommended you monitor it multiple times per year. If it is too high, you can consult your doctor and begin to take steps toward lowering it.
Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels- High levels of cholesterol and triglycerides indicate the fat found in the blood is at risk of clogging arteries, leading to coronary artery disease and heart attack. If you find your levels are higher than is recommended, consult steps to lower them- including a Mediterranean-style diet.
Healthy BMI- As your weight increases your blood pressure will rise as well. Additional weight beyond a healthy body mass index (BMI) can put strain on your heart and blood vessels. A BMI over 30 is considered unhealthy and at risk of heart disease. If you find you are above 30, consult your doctor on steps you can take to lower this number.
If you’re still smoking- now might be the time to quit! Smoking increases your risk of a heart attack, and can cause atherosclerosis, a condition where the arteries narrow and harden, leading to serious heart complications. The health benefits that occur with quitting smoking happen quickly and most people report feeling better and breathing easier within a few months. Nowadays there are many apps and resources available to support your journey toward quitting.
Drink Less Alcohol
Alcohol consumed in excess levels will increase the risk of heart disease. After more than three drinks blood pressure levels begins to rise, and will stay elevated through the next day. Doctors suggest limiting alcohol intake to 1 to 2 drinks per day.
Reduce the Stress in Your Life
Stress is known to aggravate any health condition but it can be especially destructive to the heart. A big way to lower heart disease risk is to look at the stressors in your life. One simple way to eliminate stress is to sit quietly in meditation. By sitting in quiet, focusing on your breathing, and feeling the peace of the stillness around you, you can begin to cultivate a sense of peace that will become increasingly easier to bring into other areas of your life. It doesn’t have to be a major commitment, even 5 to 10 minutes a day will begin to make a difference.
If you’re concerned you are at risk of heart disease, schedule an appointment with your doctor and develop a plan to keep potential heart disease risks under control. Starting early is always a wise idea when protecting the health of your heart.