February is American Heart Month! As many Americans vowed to improve their health at the start of the year, this is an ideal time to remind everyone to focus on their heart and adopt better lifestyle habits to improve their health.
Declared by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson, the first American Heart Month took place in 1964. At that time, more than half of U.S. deaths were caused by cardiovascular disease. For adults aged 65 and older, it remains the leading cause of death today.
What is heart disease?
The terms “heart disease” and “cardiovascular disease” are often used interchangeably to describe a range of conditions that affect your heart. Diseases that fall under this umbrella include blood vessel diseases (atherosclerosis, coronary artery disease, etc.), heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), and heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects), among others.
In the United States, the most common form of heart disease is coronary artery disease (CAD). It occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become hardened and narrowed due to a buildup of cholesterol and other substances, known as plaque. This condition can lead to serious health issues like a heart attack, heart failure, chest pain (angina), irregular heartbeat or stroke.
How can you prevent heart disease?
As you age, you’re increasingly living with risk factors, such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, that increase your chances of having a stroke or developing heart disease. Whether you live at home, in an assisted living community or at a nursing home, you can make healthy changes to lower your risk of developing heart disease. Controlling and preventing risk factors are that much more important if you already suffer from heart disease.
Here are some tips from The American Heart Association for improving your heart health:
For adults aged 65 and older, aim for 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity (i.e. brisk walking) most days of the week as well as two plus days a week of muscle-strengthening activities. Keep in mind, many “fun” activities can be considered exercise – as long as you’re moving your body! Before starting a new exercise regimen, especially if you have certain health conditions, consult your doctor.
If you’re still smoking, it’s time to quit. Besides improved heart health, there are many benefits to living a smoke-free life, including tasting and smelling things more vibrantly, improved circulation, reduced risk of certain types of cancer, saving money and feeling more energetic.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
Fill at least half your plate with fresh, frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables provides vitamins, minerals and fiber to help protect your heart. Reduce your sodium consumption. Americans eat more than double the daily amount of recommended sodium, mostly from processed foods. So put down the salt shaker, especially if you have heart disease or other heart issues.
Substitute the “good” fats, mono- and poly-unsaturated, from foods like nuts, salmon, avocados and olive oil, for saturated and hydrogenated fats and foods high in cholesterol. These “bad” fats are mainly found in foods such as fatty meats with the skin on, processed foods and other animal products. When eaten consistently over time, they can lead to certain health issues that affect your heart. Lastly, cook at home! It’s an easy way to incorporate all three of the suggestions above and will save you money in the process.
Traditions Senior Living communities provide heart-healthy, well-balanced meals to their residents three times per day, 365 days per year.
Watch your numbers, including your weight
Schedule regular check-ups with your doctor to monitor health conditions that affect the heart, including overweight or obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It’s important to keep these under control with lifestyles changes and/or medication prescribed by your doctor to reduce your risk of developing heart disease as you age.
Be well – minimize stress in your life
Stress can compound many heart disease risks that older adults already face, like high blood pressure. Take the time to find healthy outlets to relieve stress and lower your risk of heart disease. It could be as simple as mediating for a few minutes in the morning or finding a quiet activity, like solving a puzzle or doing yoga, to clear your mind and calm your senses.
Reduce alcohol intake
Excess alcohol consumption can worsen health conditions that contribute to heart disease, such as high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and high cholesterol levels. Current recommendations state that men should consume no more than two drinks and women should consume no more than one drink per day.
Overall, take care of your body and your health as you age to reduce your risk of developing heart disease and other health conditions. At Traditions Senior Living, we ensure that our residents in assisted and independent living, as well as our memory care neighborhoods, get the care they need to protect their heart health.
For more information on heart disease, tips on living well and recipes for improving your diet, check out The American Heart Association at americanheart.org.