Getting older is not for the faint of heart. And when it comes to adopting health-conscious best practices as you age gracefully, that saying can be taken quite literally. Your heart is an incredibly strong and resilient muscle—one of the five vital organs—that pumps blood through your entire body. And unlike the exciting retirement trip you’ve been planning for months where a good dose of R&R or hanging out with your grandkids is the only thing on the to-do list, your heart takes no days off. It works around the clock like a well-oiled machine to keep you and your body going. But one chronic condition is a major threat to senior health. And arming yourself with the tools and best practices to optimize your heart health is your strongest weapon against this global killer.
What is Heart Disease?
Heart disease is a term for a group of different health conditions that affect the heart. The most common form of heart disease in the United States is called coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD often causes:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Chest pain
- Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat)
Here are the biggest risk factors and what to do to prevent cardiovascular disease.
What Are the Risk Factors for Heart Disease?
A staggering 84 percent of adults aged 65 and older die from heart disease. It is not only a leading cause of death in America but globally, claiming almost 18 million lives per year, according to the World Health Organization. The biggest risk factors for heart disease include:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Chronic kidney disease
- Poor cholesterol levels (Having high levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) and low levels of good cholesterol (HDL)
The good news is that there are lifestyle choices you can make each day to optimize your heart and overall health and stave off heart disease.
How to Prevent or Control Heart Disease: What You Can Do
A growing body of evidence suggests lifestyle choices reign supreme when it comes to preventing or safely managing heart disease. In fact, one Harvard study that analyzed over 55,000 people found that those with good lifestyle habits lowered their heart disease risk by nearly 50%! Which lifestyle habits matter most, and where should you start when it comes to applying them?
Healthy Lifestyle Choices for Preventing Heart Disease: 5 Tips
Manage your weight.
Being overweight or obese can put undue stress on your heart. If you are struggling with your weight, talk to your doctor about starting a weight loss regimen that is right for you.
Eat a heart-healthy diet.
Food is medicine, and that is not just a memorable quote from the ancient Greek physician Hippocrates. The positive effects of nutrition on whole-body health have stood the test of time throughout history. Improving or optimizing heart health begins with a nutritious, whole-food diet rich in lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables and avoiding or limiting foods high in salt, saturated fat, and bad cholesterol. If you have diabetes, avoid foods that are high in sugar. And avoid or eliminate processed foods and alcohol whenever possible.
Cholesterol is important for good health and is needed for building cell walls and tissues, making hormones, vitamin D, and bile acid. While cholesterol is not inherently “bad,” too much cholesterol buildup in the body can cause serious health issues. Your doctor can do simple, routine testing to check your cholesterol and help protect your heart. Some best practices for monitoring cholesterol include keeping your doctor's appointments, taking your medication as prescribed, staying active, and eating healthier foods.
Manage any chronic conditions.
High blood pressure and diabetes, among other chronic conditions, can increase your risk of developing heart disease. So, keeping chronic conditions in check and well-managed is one way to be as heart-healthy as possible.
High blood pressure can not only damage your heart and arteries, but it can also damage your kidneys and even your brain! Check your blood pressure regularly and take your medications as directed. Diabetes, or having high blood sugar, is one of the most common health issues that raises your risk for heart disease and stroke. Be sure to talk to your doctor regularly about managing your diabetes properly.
Getting regular movement is one of the single most important steps we can take to improve and optimize our physical and mental health. Especially in seniors, when mobility and joint pain become hindrances to feeling your best, regular exercise can alleviate pain, improve mobility, and improve your ability to maintain your independence. If you are intimidated by the idea of starting a new exercise regimen, remember that even a 20-30-minute brisk walk yields just the same benefits as high-intensity aerobic exercises like swimming or gardening.
Take the “steps” necessary to improve your heart health: Higher daily step counts are linked to reducing all-cause mortality! One study found that taking 8,000 steps daily was associated with a 51% lower risk for all-cause mortality (or death from all causes). Taking 12,000 steps daily was associated with a 65% lower risk than taking 4,000 steps. In contrast, the authors saw no association between step intensity and risk of death after accounting for the total number of steps taken per day.