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9 Heart-Healthy Tips for Seniors
Did you know February is American Heart Month? It’s the perfect time to raise awareness about heart disease and share a few heart-healthy tips for seniors.
Heart disease is the #1 killer of Americans. It kills more people than all forms of cancer combined. Seniors ages 65 and older are more likely than younger people to suffer a heart attack, to have a stroke, or to develop coronary heart disease. An estimated 85.6 million American adults have one or more types of coronary heart disease—and of these, 43.7 million are over the age of 60. These conditions are also a major cause of disability, limited activity, and poor quality of life for seniors, too.
The good news is heart disease is preventable in most cases by making healthy lifestyle changes. If you’re 65 or older, consider these steps to keep your heart healthy as you age.
1. Follow a heart-healthy diet.
Low in calories but high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber, colorful fruits and vegetables are great for your heart. Seniors should get at least five servings per day of these nutrition all-stars. Read all nutrition labels and limit saturated and trans fats and added sugars. Buy plenty of nuts and high-fiber foods. Avoid high-fat dairy or meats and limit the amount of alcohol you drink. Never skip breakfast.
2. Quit smoking.
Smoking is a leading cause of preventable death. It can also raise your risk of heart disease and heart attack and worsen already existing heart disease risk factors. Smoking damages the artery walls, but quitting—even later in life—can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer over time. If you’re struggling to quit, chat with your doctor about programs available to you or consider joining a local support group.
3. Stay active.
Regular physical activity can help you lose excess body weight, improve physical fitness and well-being, and lower your risk for many conditions, including heart disease risk factors like high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Think brisk walking, dancing, or gardening—anything that gets you up and moving instead of sitting for hours every day. Always talk to your doctor before you start a new fitness routine, especially if you have physical impairments or take certain medications.
4. Maintain a healthy weight.
The more body fat you have, the more likely you are to develop heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, breathing issues, and certain types of cancer. But losing weight can help to lower many of these levels and improve your overall health. A healthy body weight for most adults is a body mass index (BMI) between 18.5 and 24.9. Talk to your doctor about the right BMI for you. Following a heart-healthy diet and being physically active can help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Try some of these additional tips for improving overall health and well-being.
5. Keep your diabetes, high blood pressure, and/or high cholesterol under control.
Two of the major risks for heart disease are high blood pressure, or stiffness of the large arteries which becomes common with age, and high blood cholesterol, which can lead to plaque buildup in your arteries. If these numbers are high, work with your doctors to lower them.
6. Minimize unnecessary stress.
Studies show that higher stress levels can trigger a heart attack or angina. Stress can also contribute to high blood pressure and other heart disease risk factors. Chronic stress can affect your memory, learning, immune system, anxiety, and depression, especially as you age. If you’re feeling stressed, especially if you’re caregiving for a loved one, talk about your concerns with a loved one, your primary care physician, or a licensed therapist. Eat a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise, including relaxation techniques like yoga, tai chi, or meditation. Try these tips, too.
7. Know the symptoms of heart disease—and seek medical attention immediately.
Early heart disease is barely noticeable, which is why it’s important to maintain regular check-ups with your primary care physician. Contact your doctor if you experience any of these common symptoms:
- Pain, numbness, or tingling sensations
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Chest pain during physical activity
- Lightheadedness, dizziness, or confusion
- Cold sweats
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Swelling of the ankles, feet, legs, stomach, and/or neck
- Reduced ability to exercise or be physically active
- Problems with normal activities
8. Understand your risk of heart disease.
Your risk depends on many factors, some changeable (being physically active and eating healthy) and some not (age, sex, and family history of heart disease). Your risk could be higher if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, are overweight or obese, have prediabetes or diabetes, or smoke. Women generally get heart disease about 10 years later than men do, but it’s still the #1 killer of women. Preeclampsia during pregnancy can raise your risk, too. A crucial step in determining your risk is to talk to your doctor. Thorough check-ups and risk assessments are key. Your doctor can also help you set and reach heart-healthy goals. Ask about your heart disease risk at annual checkups and discuss prevention and treatment plans.
9. Get plenty of sleep.
Sleep is key to good health and well-being. It’s an important time to support healthy brain function and maintain general good health, but not enough Americans get the recommended hours of sleep each day. Over time, not getting enough sleep can raise your risk of heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. There are several steps you can take to improve your sleep habits: avoid nicotine and caffeine, go to bed and wake up at the same time every day, keep your bedroom quiet and cool and dark. If you’re still struggling to rest peacefully at night, consider these tips.