Heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases are seniors’ leading causes of death. A study by The American Heart Association showed that almost half or 121 million Americans have heart disease, an enormous increase over the past three years. As staggering as those numbers may be, it is important to note that heart disease is preventable even if you are over 65.
What is heart disease?
The term heart disease is used to describe various conditions that affect the heart. Heart or cardiovascular disease includes conditions like blood vessel disease, heart rhythm problems, and congenital heart defects. The number one form of heart disease is coronary artery disease.
Coronary Artery Disease.
Coronary artery disease happens when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become blocked by a buildup of cholesterol, better known as plaque. This buildup of cholesterol can lead to many life-threatening conditions like heart attack, heart failure, angina (chest pain), stroke, or an irregular heartbeat.
Why are seniors at a higher risk of heart disease?
Heart disease can affect anyone, but seniors have a greater risk of heart disease. Even though things like a family history play a big role in whether or not a person will develop heart disease, other factors are even more important, such as:
- High blood pressure
- Being overweight or obese
- Decrease in physical activity
- Poor diet
- High cholesterol
- Heavy alcohol intake
As we age, we cannot move around as much as we used to, making it harder to maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle. Years of a poor diet rich in low-quality fatty foods finally catch up, often leading to high cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and other forms of cardiovascular disease.
Warning Signs of Heart Disease
Even though there are different forms of heart disease, they all share these common symptoms:
- Chest pain, pressure in the chest
- Shortness of breath
- Pain in your arm, back, neck, and jaw
- Feeling nauseous or vomiting
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Feeling over full or indigestion
- Fatigue or extreme exhaustion
- Irregular heartbeat or heart palpitations
It is important to know these signs, seek medical attention immediately, and follow up with your primary care physician.
Know Your Risk
Unfortunately, when you go for a typical annual physical, the ordered labs can sometimes be incomplete regarding understanding your risk level. Basic lipid panels, many times, don’t tell the whole story. It is important to know some key areas of your health status, such as your insulin resistance levels, inflammation levels, and more valuable cholesterol markers, such as ApoB, ADMA, and your LDL and HDL particle numbers. It is often of value to consider some imaging surveillance, such as a carotid ultrasound or a CT of the coronary arteries. If you don’t know where you stand, how can you plan? You can create a personalized plan for progress based on the findings.
How to Prevent Heart Disease in Seniors
The American Heart Association provides a list of ways seniors can improve their heart health. It is important to note that even after changing one’s lifestyle and diet, it may still be necessary to take certain medications, such as
- Calcium channel blockers
- Daily aspirin
to help prevent a heart attack in the future. Here are some heart-healthy tips for seniors.
Get Enough Exercise
Getting enough exercise is the number one thing you can do for your heart, and physical activity also helps reduce the risk of developing diabetes. It is suggested that most individuals get 120 minutes per week of moderate exercise. Be sure to follow the physical activity guidelines that your doctor has provided and stop if you begin to feel any chest pain. Some muscle strengthening exercises that are great for older adults to do are:
It is never too late to quit smoking. Quitting smoking will help your heart and circulatory system, increasing blood flow, reducing your risk for certain cancers, and helping you feel more energetic. Speak to your primary care physician before starting any quitting method, such as the nicotine patch, as it might interfere with certain medications or blood pressure.
Eat A Healthy Diet
It is important to ensure you eat the pyramid and get all the nutrients your body needs. The best diet for heart health is the Mediterranean diet. The Mediterranean diet allows you to get a full range of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fish. This diet also limits your salt intake, saturated and trans fats, and any foods containing cholesterol. We also find it important for a person to understand how foods uniquely affect their glucose/insulin numbers, so we often consider a continuous glucose monitor to guide a nutrition plan.
Reduce Alcohol Intake
An excess amount of alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, arrhythmia, and high cholesterol levels. Try to limit your alcohol intake to no more than two drinks a day.
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Excess weight can strain the heart and cause other problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. It is important to get at least 120 minutes of physically active per week and eat a healthy diet. Another way to help you maintain a healthy diet is to learn how to read the nutrition labels on the food you eat. Knowing how to read the nutritional labels on food will help you know:
- The Serving sizes
- Calories per serving
- Percent of your daily value
- What nutrients it will provide
- What vitamins and minerals it has
- The ingredients
Get enough sleep
A good night’s sleep is important for everyone, including older adults. You should get anywhere from seven to nine hours of sleep a night. It can be hard for some people to unwind at night’s end. Here are 5 things you can do to help you settle down for a good night’s sleep:
- Go to sleep at the same time every night
- Drink herbal tea
Stress has been shown to contribute to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and other cardiac risk factors. It is important to take care of your emotional well-being, and there are many activities you can do to help with stress management.
- Music therapy
- Speaking with family, friends, or therapist
- Finding a hobby (painting, sewing, woodwork)
Heart health for seniors is not just about living longer; it’s about living better. By living a heart-healthy lifestyle, you can enjoy all that life has to offer. Make sure you don’t miss your yearly checkups, and don’t hesitate to call your doctor if you have any concerns. Maintain a healthy weight, increase your physical activity, reduce stress, and continue taking any medication your doctor has prescribed.