Taking Care of Your Heart

Ken Teegardin Written by Ken Teegardin
SeniorLiving.Org Expert on Chief Editor | Caregiver

Though the number of deaths from heart disease recently fell 3.7%, it remains the leading killer in the U.S. Over 600,000 Americans die from the disease every year—more than die from cancer. With these statistics, a primary goal for senior living should be taking care of your heart.

Taking Care of Your Heart

So how can you mitigate the risks? Who is at risk? How can I best take care of my heart? Let’s look at these risks and what you can do to mitigate them.

Risk Factors You Can’t Control

Some risks you can control, some you can’t. According the American Heart Association, here are the factors that are out of your hands:

Increasing age. About 84% who die of heart disease are 65 and older.

Gender. Men have a greater risk of heart attack than women do. And they have heart attacks earlier in life.

Heredity/Race. If your parents had heart disease, your risk is increased. African Americans are at a higher risk than Caucasians because of hereditary high blood pressure. As are Mexican Americans, American Indians, and native Hawaiians because of higher rates of obesity and diabetes.

Mitigating the Risk Factors You Can Control

Smoking. Cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing coronary heart disease by 2–4 times that of nonsmokers. Pipe and cigar smoking also increases risk though not as greatly as cigarettes.

Take care of your heart. Quit smoking. We know it’s easier said than done. But if you’re serious about a healthy heart, doctors say this is the smartest step you can take.

High blood cholesterol. Cholesterol is a fatty substance found in your blood. The higher the levels of cholesterol the greater the risk of heart disease and heart attack.

The two types of cholesterol are low-density lipoproteins (LDL) and high-density lipoproteins (HDL). LDLs are sometimes called “bad” cholesterol because it deposits the fat (plaque) on the walls of your heart arteries. This increases your risk of heart disease.

HDLs are referred to as “good” cholesterol because they help remove cholesterol from your arteries.

Take care of your heart. The key is your diet. First, cut back on your total fat. Then focus on eating food that will help you lower your cholesterol.

Eating oatmeal and food high in fiber will reduce the LDLs. Think kidney beans, apples, pears and prunes.

Eating fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids will reduce your blood pressure. Try herring, halibut, salmon and mackerel.

Eating nuts like almonds and walnuts will keep your blood vessels healthy.

High blood pressure. This is the pressure of blood exerted in the artery walls as the heart pumps. The high pressure can increase the heart’s workload and cause the heart to thicken. This increases risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney failure.

Physical inactivity doubles your risk of heart disease. But moderate physical activity can help prevent heart and blood vessel disease. Working out regularly can also help control high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and obesity.

Take care of your heart. You don’t have to become the next Jack Lalanne. Simply walking 30 minutes every day will reduce your risks. Be sure to consult your doctor before you undergo any new physical activity.

Obesity and overweight. Have you ever huffed and puffed just trying your shoes? That spare tire will increase your risk even you have no other risk factors. When you’re heavier, your heart is working harder.

Being overweight also increases your blood pressure, raises cholesterol levels and makes the risk of developing diabetes greater.

Take care of your heart. Losing just 10 pounds will decrease your risk of heart disease. Start with a healthy diet. Then work in a regular exercise. Combined, you’ll see the weight come off and you’ll immediately have more energy.

Diabetes. This is a disease where the body’s blood sugar level is too high. The two kinds of diabetes are type 1 and 2. Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Being overweight raises your risk of type 2 diabetes.

Take care of your heart. Weight loss and regular physical activity also can help control diabetes.

Summary

Heart health risks are too high to ignore especially as we age. The bottom line: you can positively affect your heart’s health. Nearly everything you do and everything you eat in life influences your heart. Do the things that keep your heart healthy: lower your blood pressure cholesterol, exercise, and eat healthy. Maintaining a healthy heart is smart senior living.

For more ways to live healthy, read "Aging Well: The Choice Is Ours" and "Active Senior Living."

Updated: Mar 23, 2011

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