February is American Heart Month – a time to reflect on heart health and the lifestyle choices that can affect your wellbeing.
Heart disease is a major threat to senior health: According to the CDC, 17.0% of adults aged 65 years and older report having coronary heart disease. But though the risk of developing heart health problems increases with age, it doesn’t HAVE to be a part of getting older.
Keep reading for more information on heart disease, what it is, and how to protect yourself from its deadly effects:
How Your Heart Changes with Age
Anyone can die from a sudden heart attack or stroke, but it is far more likely in older adults. For those aged 65 and older, heart disease, heart failure, heart attack, and stroke are very real threats.
Why? Because the heart changes as we age. When combined with poor lifestyle choices, it can spell disaster.
These are some of the ways age can affect your coronary health:
- Aging causes changes to the heart and blood vessels, such as the heart not beating as fast during exercise
- Age-related stiffening of the heart can sometimes lead to heart failure
- Arteries and arterioles become less elastic over the years, making them stiffer and less resilient
- Risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes increase the chances of developing atherosclerosis, or plaque buildup inside the arteries
- Long-standing lifestyle choices such as poor diet and heavy alcohol use can lead to heart damage
Symptoms of Heart Disease
Many older adults are not aware that they have heart disease until after they’ve already had a heart attack. Why? Because often, the symptoms of heart disease can often be attributed to other conditions – especially in older adults.
Here’s what you need to know: Heart Disease refers to a range of conditions that affect your heart, but many of them have similar symptoms. These can include:
- Chest pain or tightness
- Shortness of breath
- An altered heartbeat (too fast or too slow)
- Dizziness or light headedness
- Swelling and/or numbness in the extremities
If you have these or any other symptoms, it’s important to reach out to your doctor – heart disease is best treated when caught early!
How to Reduce Your Risk
Many health conditions (aged-related and otherwise) can contribute to heart disease and increase your risk of having a heart attack. It is therefore vital to keep all contributing health problems, such as high cholesterol and diabetes, under control.
Other efforts, such as eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly, can help keep your heart healthy. Here are some tips:
- Try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day
- Quit smoking and reduce your alcohol intake
- Minimize stress in your daily life
- Eat a diet heavy in fresh fruits and vegetables, while limiting saturated fats, salt, and added sugar
- Get regular check-ups to monitor blood pressure, cholesterol, and other conditions that affect the heart
- Watch your weight – too many pounds can create heart disease risk
Remember: It’s never too late to start living a healthy lifestyle! Work with your doctor to monitor any current health conditions and help stop new ones from developing.