According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the US, accounting for about one in every four deaths. Although your chance of getting a cardiovascular disease increases with age, don’t just assume that it’s going to happen. There’s a lot you can do to keep your heart healthy no matter how old you are.
Here are some tips for maintaining cardiovascular health:
1. Stay active with exercise
Physical activity is good for your cardiovascular health at every age. Experts recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise almost every day of the week.
Healthy older adults should do four types of activities regularly: aerobic (or endurance) exercise and activities to strengthen muscles, improve balance, and increase flexibility. Whatever you do, progress gradually to help avoid injury and minimize soreness.
Many activities give you more than just one benefit. Water aerobics with weights gives you strengthening and aerobic benefits. Yoga combines balance, flexibility, and strengthening. Walking is an all-around great exercise for lowering blood sugar, losing weight, maintaining bone mass and mental ability, and building strength and stamina. Make sure to:
- Take time to warm up and cool down (about 10 minutes each)
- Start slowly and build up to more intense activity
- Wear a sturdy pair of shoes
- Stop if you have pain, become dizzy, or feel short of breath
- Drink plenty of water before, during, and after exercising
Michele Berman, PT, Area Director for Clinical Practice at BAYADA Home Health Care advises, “Make sure to talk to your doctor to see what kind of exercise is safe or good for you. It may be helpful to write down your exercise goals and use an exercise log to track progress.“
2. Eat a heart-healthy diet
What you eat is one of the most important factors for warding off cardiovascular disease. Make sure to:
- “Eat from the rainbow" of nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables (choose a variety of orange, yellow, and green vegetables)
- Choose whole grains, like oatmeal, whole-wheat bread, and brown rice
- Incorporate fat-free or low-fat milk and cheese, or soy or rice milk that is fortified with vitamin D and calcium
- Get your protein from seafood, lean meats, poultry, beans, nuts, and seeds
- Avoid sugar-sweetened drinks and desserts that have added sugars
- Limit foods with butter, shortening, or other fats
- Say no to white bread, rice, and pasta made from refined grains
“Your primary care physician or nutritionist can help you develop an effective nutrition plan. It is also helpful to understand how to read the nutrition label effectively,” says Berman.
3. Watch your numbers
It is important to schedule regular checkup appointments with your primary care physician. Dr. Mandeep encourages patients to, “Bring all your medications (including vitamins, supplements, and more) or medication list to all doctor appointments. Ask questions if you don’t understand something, or if something does not feel right.”
Talk to your doctor about how often you should be screened or monitored for conditions that affect the heart including, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Recommendations vary based on your age, health status, health history, and risk factors.
- Blood pressure is one of the most important screenings because high blood pressure usually has no symptoms, so it can’t be detected without being measured. High blood pressure can usually be controlled through lifestyle changes and/or medication.
- You should have a fasting lipoprotein profile—a blood test that measures total cholesterol, LDL (bad) cholesterol, HDL (good) cholesterol and triglycerides—taken routinely.
- High blood glucose levels put you at greater risk of developing insulin resistance, prediabetes and type 2 diabetes. Untreated diabetes can lead to many serious medical problems including heart disease and stroke.
4. Watch your weight
Being overweight or obese may increase your risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and bone issues. Eating wisely and being physically active to preserve muscle and bone may help you maintain strength and a healthy weight as you age.
Due to muscle mass loss and a dip in metabolism, older people usually need to eat fewer calories than when they were younger. This means you have fewer calories to help you get the nutrients your body needs for energy, so, you need to eat foods that are high in nutrients or are “nutrient dense.”
People who have congestive heart failure have to be particularly vigilant about monitoring their weight because a sudden increase could indicate potentially dangerous fluid retention. According to Berman, “It is beneficial to weigh yourself every morning at about the same time, wearing the same clothes, before having something to eat or drink and using the same scale. Reach out to your doctor if you gain more than three pounds in one day or five pounds in one week.”
5. Check for sleep apnea
Snoring may be bothersome to your partner, but it’s generally harmless to your health. However, when it’s accompanied by sleep apnea, it could be detrimental to your cardiovascular health.
Sleep apnea occurs when a person’s breathing pauses during sleep. These episodes—which can be mild to severe— sometimes wake the sleeper as he or she gasps for air, but not always. That’s why some people don’t even know they have it.
Sleep apnea is associated with high blood pressure, arrhythmia, stroke, and heart failure. There are two types, but the most common type is obstructive sleep apnea in which weight on the upper chest and neck contributes to blocking the flow of air.
A sleep study can help diagnose sleep apnea, which can be treated with continuous positive airway pressure, or CPAP, a device involves wearing a mask while sleeping. Losing weight can often help reduce or eliminate the symptoms.
6. Quit smoking
If you do smoke, it's time to quit. Do it today—don’t wait until tomorrow. Ask your doctor about help to quit smoking.
7. Reduce your alcohol intake
Excess alcohol consumption can worsen health conditions that contribute to heart disease, like blood pressure, arrhythmias, and high cholesterol levels.