Keeping your heart healthy is one of the most important things you can do as you age to ensure happy golden years. While heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, there are steps you can take to make sure your heart is healthy, no matter your age.
As you age, the chambers of your heart increase and the walls thicken, leading to a higher risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke. This risk increases more acutely after you turn 65, and is coupled with increased sensitivity to salt, which can lead to high blood pressure and heart failure. Increased hardening of the arteries, especially if not treated over time, can lead to weakened heart muscles, resulting in a higher risk of heart failure. Among other risks, it is important to note that while your resting heart rate doesn’t change as you age, your heart rate response is slower when you exercise, which can lead to increased risk of heart events. Notably, risk of heart disease is not limited to any specific group of older Americans, although there are variations in risk regarding ethnicity.
So what can you do to maintain heart health? Dr. Sanjay Patel, a cardiologist at Tryon Medical Partners, gives pointers for how you can improve your heart’s longevity.
Target a colorful diet
A focus on heart health involves a diet high in nutritional value and antioxidants. In particular, Dr. Patel recommends incorporating colorful fruits and vegetables, as they are high in both, providing a whole-body benefit. The current shift in many American diets toward vegetarianism and veganism can also help.
“As we go from an American/Western diet toward a vegan diet, we decrease our risk of heart disease,” Dr. Patel says.
To feel confident you are creating a healthy, colorful diet, start with this proposed grocery list the next time you’re shopping. Dr. Patel also cautions that in determining foods to avoid for heart health, you should limit fatty, fried foods, foods with high levels of salt and alcohol.
It’s never too late to start taking care of your heart
Don’t get discouraged if you haven’t taken the time to focus on your heart health prior to turning 65. While starting as early as possible is always a good idea, there is never a wrong time to get going.
“Diet and exercise are best from a young age, but it’s never too late to start at any age,” says Dr. Patel. “Effort even after age 65 leads to lower mortality, death from heart attacks, heart disease and stroke.”
Incorporate exercise consistently
Safely exercising can improve your heart health in numerous ways. Dr. Patel recommends the following for exercising to improve heart health:
- Try to get 30-60 minutes of cardio at least five days a week, with a focus on moderate intensity exercises (such as brisk walking).
- Strengthen major muscle groups with one to three sets of weight exercises that include at least 12 repetitions. Try to spread these out over at least two non-consecutive days.
- Perform flexibility and balance exercises, including yoga and tai chi, when possible.
Are you starting your exercise routine or expanding your current habits? When you’re over the age of 65, follow these tips to exercise safely and effectively.
Reach out to your doctor if something doesn’t feel right
With an increased focus on your diet and exercise to improve heart health, it is still important to recognize when you should speak with your doctor about concerns. Dr. Patel flags that any of the following symptoms should lead to a chat with your doctor:
- Chest pain or angina (chest pain that radiates out to other parts of the body)
- Difficult or labored breathing or shortness of breath, either when you’re resting or exerting yourself
- Feelings of breathlessness when lying down
- Fainting or having the feeling that you are about to faint
- Heart palpitations or heart beats that feel different than normal
- Certain heart murmurs
Following these tips to improve heart health and working with your trusted Tryon physician is a combination that can’t be beat! Together, we can focus on keeping your heart strong at any age.