6 ways to protect your heart health

By Michele McGovern
February 1st, 2021 Health & Wellness No Comments

Older adults are smart to focus on heart health year round. But now – in the wake of a pandemic that adversely affected people with heart conditions – it’s more important than ever.

Heart disease is the No. 1 leading cause of death in adults 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s the second leading cause for deaths in adults 45-64, the CDC says.

The good news, most adults are taking steps to improve their overall health in response to the pandemic. And those with chronic conditions are giving it extra attention, the Parade and Cleveland Clinic Healthy Now survey found.

There’s no better time than now: February is American Heart Month, a time each year to focus on health, heart illness awareness and prevention and wearing red to spread the good word.

Hear are six expert-recommended ways older adults can focus on heart health and prevent heart disease:

Control blood pressure

Unrecognized and untreated high blood pressure can lead to heat attacks and strokes. Blood pressure higher than 120/80 is considered pre-hypertension, and 130/80 and higher is considered hypertension.

The best way to control blood pressure is to know blood pressure. You can self-check it regularly with at-home cuffs or at a local pharmacy. First check with your health care provider to confirm what your normal level is. Then make efforts to maintain it, such as following a healthy diet, controlling your weight and getting daily exercise. If that doesn’t control your blood pressure, talk with your health care provider about medications.

Control stress

Stress causes your body to release extra adrenaline which temporarily increases heart rate and blood pressure.

Controlling stress is easier said than done, especially since the pandemic. Try yoga, mindfulness, meditation, walking in nature, reading and/or stretching to de-stress daily.

Exercise more

Older adults who are sedentary are more susceptible to heart disease and complications from heart health negligence.

While exercise may sound or look daunting to older adults who’ve fallen out of practice or have never dabbled, there’s little reason to fear it. Ask your health care provider what’s best for you. Then work toward 30 minutes a day, five days a week at an activity you can safely enjoy such as walking, exercise classes, indoor cycling, yoga, etc.

Eat right

Unhealthy eating contributes to obesity, hypertension and heart disease.

Older adults want to focus on a healthy diet that is centered around fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean protein and fish, and healthy fats. You also want to cut salt and sugar intake. One helpful way to ensure healthier eating is creating a grocery list (full of good-for-you foods) and stick to in at the store.

The gold standard for heart healthy eating is the DASH diet, and you can find everything you need to know about it here.

Equally important is portion control. Eating too much of the right things can still cause weight gain which can lead to heart issues.

Sleep well

Older adults who don’t get the right amount of sleep – experts recommend between six and eight hours – can suffer from hypertension. Sleep apnea – a low-quality, disruptive sleep pattern – can raise adults’ risk of heart attacks and abnormal heartbeats.

Sleep helps rest, heal and repair your heart. Take steps to have a more restful, comfortable sleep. Try to:

  • maintain a consistent bedtime and wake up time
  • sleep in a cool, dark room
  • avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol two hours before going to bed, and
  • stay away from screens – cellular devices, tablets and computers – at least an hour before bed.

Curb or knock the bad habits

We don’t have to tell you smoking is bad for you. It’s extremely hard on heart health, adding damage to artery walls. In fact, smoking harms nearly every organ in your body, the CDC says. Although we’re focused on heart disease, we’ll note that smoking also causes cancer, strokes, lung diseases, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It increases the risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases and immune system problems.

No matter what you smoke – cigarettes, cigars, pipe or e-cigs – try to slow or stop. Even as an older adult, quitting can lower your risk of heart disease – and all those other issues!

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