Taking Care of Your Heart
February isn’t just the month of flowers, cheesy love poems, and confectionary delights; it also marks Heart Health Month. Heart health awareness is particularly important for seniors as heart disease impacts a vast number of them. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease affects 69.1% of men and 67.9% of women in the 60-79-year-old age range, while in the 80 and over age group, 84.7% of men and 85.9% of women suffer from cardiovascular disease. Fortunately, there are simple measures that seniors can follow to protect and strengthen their hearts. The National Institute on Aging (NIA) recommends seniors follow these six steps to delay, prevent, and recognize heart disease (2).
- Quit Smoking. Since smoking heightens seniors’ risk for heart disease and stroke (along with many other diseases, including lung disease, cancer, and eye diseases), it is important to break the habit as soon as possible. Even if you have smoked for decades, quitting now can improve your heart function and decrease your chances of suffering from a heart attack or stroke. For more information about the impacts of smoking on seniors and tips for quitting, check out the NIA’s resource page.
- Eat Healthy. For optimal heart health, seniors should eat whole grains, vegetables, and fruits. Foods such as low-fat or fat-free dairy products, beans, fish, and poultry are also part of a heart-healthy diet. Limit unhealthy choices (such as sugary beverages and sweets) and foods high in saturated fat. Additionally, don’t drink much alcohol. Learn more about dietary guidelines on the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s website. Remember to consult a physician before changing your diet.
- Increase Physical Activity. The American Heart Association suggests that seniors aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of higher-intensity activity per week. The AHA recommends seniors complete a combination of exercises weekly, including light lifting, yoga (which does not count as moderate or high-intensity exercise but can help lower blood pressure), and water aerobics. Go Red for Women provides more information about heart-healthy exercises. Check with your doctor before starting a new exercise plan.
- Maintain a Healthy Weight. Physicians can measure your BMI (body mass index) by gauging your height and weight. If a your BMI is over 25, this may indicate you are at a greater risk for numerous health issues, including heart disease. The NIA also reports belly fat can increase your chance of developing heart disease. To maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and eat healthily (6).
- Ask Your Doctor the Right Questions. Asking your doctor the right questions can give you the knowledge necessary to reduce heart disease risk. The NIA suggests asking your physician about your risk for heart disease, cholesterol numbers, and blood pressure. Also ask him or her what actions to take if you suspect you are having a heart attack (7).
- Know the Signs of a Heart Attack. If you do suffer from a heart attack, timely recognition of the symptoms is vital. According to Go Red, some heart attack warning signals include chest discomfort, upper body discomfort, shortness of breath, and other uncomfortable symptoms such as nausea, lightheadedness, or breaking out in a cold sweat. Learn more about heart attack symptoms