When it comes to older adults, the numbers are even more alarming. Because of natural changes in the body that occur with age, older adults are more at risk for heart complications, including heart attack, stroke, hypertension (high blood pressure), and coronary heart disease. According to a 2016 American Heart Association report, 69% of men and 68% of women aged 60-79 have some type of cardiovascular disease. These numbers jump to as high as 85% for adults 80 years and older.
Another astounding stat is that the majority of deaths by heart disease are preventable, with some experts suggesting that as many as 90% of cases can be avoided or delayed through healthy lifestyle habits.
As we age, it becomes even more essential to think about our heart health and take steps to reduce our risk of developing cardiovascular disease. February has been named American Heart Health Month, a dedicated time for people to learn about the dangers of cardiovascular disease and how to prevent it through awareness, advocacy, and healthy habits.
With assisted living and memory care communities throughout Atlanta, Georgia, Brickmont Assisted Living is committed to providing education, resources, and care that promote the health and wellness of older adults. In honor of American Heart Health Month, we’re looking at five ways you can reduce your risk for heart disease and live well!
1. Get Moving and Stay Active
Physical activity is crucial to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and your heart health is no different. However, different types of exercises impact your body in different ways, and some are better than others for promoting a healthy heart. For example, aerobic exercises (cardio) and resistance training (strength) are two of the best types of fitness activities you can do for your heart.
Aerobic exercises, such as walking, cycling, or swimming, increase your heart rate and blood flow, which helps improve circulation and lower blood pressure. Strength training, on the other hand, can help lower body fat, build muscle, and lower cholesterol. When combined, aerobic and resistance training can immensely increase your health and reduce your risk of heart disease.
For the best results, cardio exercises should last for at least 30 minutes a day and should be done as often as possible to help improve health. Some simple cardio exercises include:
- Walking, running, or jogging
- Jumping rope
- Climbing stairs
The CDC and the American Heart Association recommended engaging in strength training exercises at least twice a week. Examples include:
- Lifting weights or using a safe weight machine at the gym
- Using resistance bands
- Doing push-ups or sit-ups
According to Harmony R. Reynolds, MD, associate director of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at NYU Langone Medical Center, "intermittent exercise doesn't compensate for the time you sit.” If you find yourself sitting for multiple hours a day (at work or home), make sure to stand up and move around periodically. Lack of movement can affect blood levels of fats and sugars, and increase your risk of heart attack or stroke.
2. Eat a Heart-Healthy Diet
A heart-healthy diet can prevent heart disease and promote overall wellness, aiding in things like weight loss, increased immunity, healthy digestion, and skin, teeth, and hair health.
While many people think fats are fats, there is a significant difference between good and bad fats. A heart-healthy diet consists of good fats, like olive oil, avocado, fatty fish, and nuts, as well as whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and low-fat protein sources. Here are some specific foods to try to add to your diet, as well as other heart-healthy diet tips:
- Eat more healthy fats, like nuts, seeds, avocados, and olive oil
- Increase your intake of Omega-3s, including fatty fish like salmon
- Satisfy your sweet tooth with berries and dark chocolate instead of candy and baked goods
- Avoid sneakily added fats in products like salad dressings, sauces, and packaged meats
- Choose whole-grain products like whole-wheat flour and high-fiber cereal instead of white flour or refined sugar products
- Aim for a balanced plate at every meal and limit portion sizes
3. Put a Stop to Bad Habits (& Pick Up Good Ones)
There are several bad habits that can hinder your progress to a healthier heart. While some practices are more obvious to associate with poor heart health, like eating foods high in trans fat or smoking, there are other habits you may not necessarily link to poor heart health. These habits can include:
- Undiagnosed depression
- Assuming you’re not at risk
- Ignoring physical symptoms (chest pain, shortness of breath, etc.)
One habit that can significantly contribute to heart disease is stress. Finding a way to relax and alleviate feelings of stress can promote heart health and may help improve other aspects of your life.
Just as there are habits that can negatively impact heart health, there are also small habits that can increase your wellness and indirectly impact heart health. While they may not be as influential as exercising or eating well, these small habits can improve your life, promote heart health, and can even be fun!
- Practice positivity
- Laugh out loud (this is associated with reduced stress)
- Get a pet
- Brush your teeth
- Make time for breakfast; it truly is the most important meal of the day!
4. Focus on a Full Night’s Sleep
Though it may not seem as apparent as dieting or exercise, sleep plays a significant role in heart health, as well. According to the CDC, adults who get less than the recommended seven hours of sleep a night are more likely to develop heart disease. In addition, sleeping well can help with high blood pressure as it gives your body more time to rest with a lower heart rate.
However, like exercise and diet, getting into a healthy sleep routine is something that many adults struggle with, especially older adults. For a better quality (and quantity) of sleep, try these tips:
- Identify factors that may be affecting your ability to fall asleep or stay asleep (stress, medications, uncomfortable bed, etc.)
- Avoid caffeine late in the day
- Get enough exercise during the day
- Create a conducive sleeping environment (dark, cool, and quiet room)
- Avoid looking at a phone or TV for 30 minutes before going to bed
5. Regular Visits With A Healthcare Provider
With heart health being a prevalent concern amongst older adults, frequent check-ups are necessary to ensure proper health. Scheduling routine doctor visits will allow you to know resting heart rate, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure levels.
These visits can also alert your doctor to any concerns. They can help you make necessary adjustments to your lifestyle or catch potential risk factors before they develop into something more severe.
Love Your Heart ❤️
Heart disease is largely preventable, which means that you have the power to control your life, your habits, and your health to avoid it. However, with millions of people already living with some form of heart disease, it’s vital to understand the risk factors, consequences, and healthy habits to manage it.
While American Heart Health Month is a great way to gain awareness and support for healthy living, you should practice these habits all year long! No matter our age, making smart and healthy decisions is essential in promoting health, wellness, and longevity.
At Brickmont Assisted Living, we want our residents to “Live Where They’re Loved,” which also means loving themselves! We encourage our residents—and all older adults—to live happy, heart-healthy lifestyles.
If you would like more information regarding senior health or healthy aging, you can check out our Brickmont Assisted Living blog!
Updated February 1, 2022