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Prevention is Key when it comes to Heart Disease for Seniors

February 1, 2022

February is nationally known as Heart Health month and reminds us that we should focus on practicing love and kindness not only towards others but to take care of our hearts as part of our self-care. Heart health is important for anyone regardless of their age but seniors should definitely be proactive about knowing how well their heart is functioning and take steps to keep it operating as well as it possibly can. Prevention is key when it comes to heart disease so read on to learn more about what it is, natural changes within the heart as aging occurs and safe exercise practices for anyone over 55.

What is heart disease?

According to the https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease, the term “heart disease” refers to several types of heart conditions. The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary heart disease (CAD), which affects the blood flow to the heart. Decreased blood flow can cause a heart attack.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of heart disease can be different for each individual. Oftentimes, early heart disease doesn’t have obvious symptoms so make sure to get regular exams with your primary care physician that includes blood pressure checks.

In the event you experience any of the following symptoms, be sure to contact a medical professional immediately and get checked out:

  • Pain, numbness, tingling in the shoulders, jaw, neck or back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain during physical exertion
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Headaches
  • Cold sweats
  • Vomiting/nausea
  • Tiredness or fatigue
  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach or neck
  • Problems performing activities of daily living (ADL’s)
  • Arrythmia also known as electrical misfiring of the heart. If you feel that your heart is fluttering, pounding harder or skipping beats then contact your primary care physician and schedule a checkup

Age-related structural changes to the heart

  • There is a normal enlargement of the heart due to an increase in cardiac muscle cells with age. The heart wall thickens so the amount of blood that a chamber can hold may decrease. This can lead to the heart filling slowly. One of the main culprits for increased thickness of the heart wall is sustained high blood pressure.
  • As described by the National Institute on Aging (NIH), “heart valves are the one-way, door-like parts that open and close to control blood flow between the chambers of your heart- may become thicker and stiffer. This can limit blood flow out of the heart and create a leaky valve which can cause fluid to build up in other areas of the body such as the lungs, feet or legs.”

Prevention tips

There are many choices you can make to keep your heart healthy and functioning optimally.

Choose to:

  • Be physically active. Older adults should aim to intentionally exercise 3-5 days per week for 30 to 60 minutes. If you have a heart condition, be sure to let fitness professionals know before you join a program so they can safely monitor your workout.
  • Eat a heart healthy diet. This includes plant sources like fruits, vegetables, nuts, and whole grains. Restrict your consumption of convenience and fast foods that may contain more saturated and trans fats.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Manage stress levels. Try methods such as meditation, breathing techniques, journaling, counseling, social activities, movement and more.
  • Control diabetes and blood pressure and cholesterol with doctor approved methods.

Choose not to:

  • Smoke.
  • Drink excessive amounts of alcohol. According to MDEdge, research is now showing that no amount of alcohol is safe for the heart. If you do drink, men should keep it limited to no more than 2 drinks per day and women 1 drink per day.
  • Be sedentary. We are all different and have different capabilities so find a physical activity that is interesting and fun to you. Some ideas for effective cardiovascular activities are biking, dancing, walking, and swimming. Just make sure to get up and move!

It is well known that physical activity reduces the risk for coronary artery disease (CAD). Other important factors to consider are family history and your age. Women over 55 and men over 45 are at higher risk for heart disease simply due to age. The good news is you can do a lot to prevent heart disease from affecting you by practicing some of the prevention tips mentioned above.

Finally, never hesitate to contact your primary care physician if you experience any of the signs or symptoms aforementioned. When it comes to your heart, show yourself some love and be proactive about keeping it in tip top shape because prevention is key.

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