It’s time for a heart-to-heart about your ticker. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), “People age 65 and older are much more likely than younger people to suffer a heart attack, to have a stroke, or to develop coronary heart disease (commonly called heart disease) and heart failure.”
Our heart and our arteries change as we age, based on both genetics and lifestyle. Hardening of the arteries – called arteriosclerosis – is the most common heart-related change among older people, reports the NIA. This is what causes high blood pressure (hypertension). Other changes may include plaque buildup in the arteries, changes in the heartbeat, and thickening of the walls of the heart. All can lead to serious health problems.
The good news in all of this is that there are specific things you can do to keep your heart healthy as you age. Most important, of course, is seeing your doctor regularly – your doctor can not only help you manage any risk factors, but also can catch little cardiac problems before they become bigger problems. Your doctor might suggest you follow recommendations such as these from the NIA:
- Be more physically active. This may be hard to accomplish during the pandemic, but you can exercise indoors. Even doing chores around the house is better than no movement at all.
- Quit smoking. “Smoking adds to the damage to artery walls,” says the NIA. “Quitting, even in later life, can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer over time.”
- Eat for your heart. NIA recommends a “heart-healthy diet” that avoids salt, added sugar, and trans- and saturated fats. Look into the DASH diet, recommended by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. DASH stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Eating right and being active will help. Talk to your doctor if you think you are over- or underweight.
- Keep your diabetes, high blood pressure, and/or high cholesterol under control. “Follow your doctor’s advice to manage these conditions,” says the NIA, “and take medications as directed.”
- Limit your alcohol intake. That means no more than two drinks per day for men, and one per day for women.
- Manage your stress. Stress can make you more susceptible to problems such as heart disease, or make existing conditions worse.
No matter when you start following these recommendations, they can improve your heart health. Healthy eating, exercise, reducing stress, and quitting smoking actually “slow the rate of aging in the heart and arteries,” says the NIA. Take this advice to heart – and keep your ticker in the best possible shape.