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How to Keep Your Heart Healthy as You Age
You may have never considered the role your heart plays in keeping you going, and yet it's such a vital piece of the puzzle for a lengthy life. And as you get older, it's even more important. Whether you consider yourself fit or you struggle to control things like blood pressure and sugar levels, the time is now to prioritize caring for your heart.
While the suggestions in this article aren’t a substitution for the advice of a healthcare professional, read on to learn how to keep your heart healthy and strong in your senior years.
How your heart changes as you grow older
While your heart serves the same purpose as it did in earlier years, it will face new challenges as it ages, too. Those over 65 face higher risks for heart disease, including strokes and heart attacks, than those who are younger. It’s even more likely that you may face heart failure, but that doesn’t mean you can take steps to potentially improve your outlook.
Some natural, age-related changes to the heart include the following:
- Changes to the electrical system create a faster, slower, or irregular heartbeat
- Related to the above, a lower heart rate during physical activity
- Enlarged heart chambers, a slower filling heart, and increasing thickness of the heart wall
- Sensitivity to salt and resulting swelling in the lower extremities, as well as higher blood pressure
Aging also increases the likelihood of fatty deposits building up on the walls of your arteries, which can create new heart problems. These same arteries may stiffen, leading to arteriosclerosis, which can result in hypertension.
With care, you can prevent these conditions from leading to atherosclerosis, a preventable disease that happens when plaque builds up in the artery walls and creates a narrowing effect. As oxygen-rich blood tries to squeeze through these smaller openings, it can reduce the nutrients and oxygen that gets to the heart and organs, leading to heart failure and other problems.
A family history of heart issues may also influence how your heart reacts to aging.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to delay or even prevent life-limiting heart diseases. They include an improved diet, regular physical activity, and addressing harmful lifestyle choices. You may also be required to start a new medication.
How to keep a healthy heart diet
Eating right can make a difference in how you feel, as well as how your heart performs. There are several heart-healthy diets out there, but you should always consider one that is approved by your physician. In general, foods with low salt, no added sugars, no trans fats, and low saturated fats are best. It’s also recommended that you incorporate foods that are high in natural fiber, including fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.
Remember to read the label
Certain foods may seem healthy and even be marketed as better choices, but they may also contain significant amounts of sugar, salt, or unhealthy fats. This is why it’s so crucial to read the nutrition labels to see what you are getting. You may be surprised at how much sodium, for example, is in a can of prepared soup or vegetables.
If you drink alcohol, consider limiting your daily amount to just two drinks per day for men and one for women. What counts as a “drink?” One can or bottle of beer, a glass of wine, or one shot of distilled spirits equate to one drink, but the alcohol content and sizes may vary. A drink from a restaurant, for example, may be larger than what you would get from a single-serve product from the grocery store.
Heart-healthy activities for seniors
Are you wondering how to get your heart muscle healthy, even as it becomes more difficult to participate in athletic pursuits? The good news is that positive heart health games for seniors don’t have to be strenuous.
Here are some popular ways to keep fit:
- Walking, quickly if you can
- Dancing in the style of your choosing
- Bicycling, either on a real bike or a stationary bike
- Gardening or doing light yard work
- Swimming or participating in a water aerobics class
It’s best to do exercise regularly throughout the week, instead of overdoing it at once. The American Heart Association recommends a total of 150 minutes of physical activity each week. If it’s been a while since you’ve exercised, or you have concerns about mobility, balance, or pain, consult a physician before you get started with any new workout routine.
One advantage of both eating well and exercising is that it can help you balance the calories you consume with the calories you burn. This is one way to maintain a healthy weight as you also work to limit heart disease risk.
Why it’s time to quit smoking
Chances are you’ve heard a lot about the risks associated with smoking. As the leading cause of preventable death, it’s in your best interest to consider giving up this habit once and for all. Not only does it ruin artery walls, but it can also reduce lung function and lead to certain cancers. Even if you currently experience health problems related to smoking, you still have a reason to quit. If nothing else, it may lower your risk of additional health issues.
Other heart health considerations
One often overlooked aspect of heart health for seniors is stress and overall mental health. By managing your stress levels, either through exercise, therapy, or professional counseling services, you can help keep another heart risk under control.
It's also essential to keep talking to your doctor about your risk for heart problems and what you can do to minimize them. During your next appointment, consider asking questions related to the following topics:
- Your current heart disease risk
- Your cholesterol, including your results of a recent fasting lab
- Your current physical activity levels and how to start or continue getting enough exercise
- Any limitations to getting exercise, and what can be done to address them
- Your current diet and eating habits, including recommended dietary guidelines to follow for your lifestyle
- Your blood sugar and current diabetes treatment details, if applicable
- Your blood pressure, both standing and sitting
- Your weight and any weight loss goals
- How to quit smoking, if applicable
Your doctor should discuss what you should look for if your condition changes. Do you know what a heart attack looks like, for example? How would you respond to new or sudden heart symptoms? Talk to your physician about the best practices in an emergency so you are better prepared.
Will you need to take new medications?
While you may be most interested in how to keep your heart healthy naturally without medication, there may come a time when you need a prescription to deal with heart disease or an unrelated condition that may have consequences for your heart. Your doctor can talk to you about the pros and cons of any new medication, so you can decide if it’s right for you.
Remember, some medications have their own risks, so make sure your physician has your complete and up-to-date medical history. This will help them prescribe the right medications for your unique health profile. Also, be sure to ask how you will need to take your heart meds and if there are any side effects to look for. Drug interactions are common, too, so it’s important to talk about this with your physician as well. You may need to avoid certain over-the-counter drugs as a result of your new medicine, for example.
Continue your education
Those wanting to know how to prevent cardiovascular disease often only have to ask their health care provider or Medicare insurance company. They should provide you with the booklets, videos, and other resources you can easily access to get an education on the right things to do to treat your heart well.