Heart disease is a general term for a variety of health conditions that affect the heart and arteries. As the leading cause of death in the united states for both genders, as we approach a certain age it is natural to start worrying about heart disease and wanting to learn more about how to prevent it. Approximately 1 in 4 individuals in the United States die of this disease each year. In the elder adult population, 84% of people age 65 and up suffer from it. It is a valid concern, especially for those with a history of heart disease in their family tree, but it doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of aging. The key is to take preventive steps and live a heart healthy lifestyle prior to identifying a diagnose-able disease.
Warning Signs of Heart Attacks
When a medical professional says you have heart disease they are usually referring to Coronary Artery Disease (CAD). This condition is often the cause of heart attacks, chronic heart failure, and arrhythmia. Heart disease can be a silent threat for many people as the warning signs don’t often appear until an actual emergency is occurring such as a heart attack. It is important to be aware of the signs of an imminent heart attack including:
- Weakness, light-headedness, or feeling “faint”
- Difficulty catching one’s breath
- Feelings of severe indigestion or “heart burn”
- Pain or uncomfortable pressure in chest, back, shoulders or neck
- Irregular heartbeat
Reducing Your Risks
The medical community has a good understanding today of what causes cardiovascular disease in the aging process. We know that the major risks and factors can all be significantly reduced with physical activity, healthy diet and other lifestyle factors.
There are many ways you can prevent heart disease by maintain good heart health. Incorporating heart healthy habits into your normal routine is a primary strategy.
Here are some tips to get started:
- Quit Smoking– Smoking is one of the primary risk factors for heart disease. No matter your age, within 2-5 years of quitting smoking there is a large drop in your risk of heart attack and stroke and this risk will continue to gradually decrease over time.
- Quit/Reduce Drinking– Drinking alcohol in excess can also increase risks and worsen health conditions that contribute to heart disease. Red wine contains an element called reservitol, which is protective for the arteries, but doctors still recommended no more than one glass a day since risks can greatly outweigh the benefits.
- Exercise- At least 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise 5 days a week or more. It doesn’t have to be strenuous- walking counts!
- Diet– Maintaining a diet that is rich with fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, while limiting things like saturated fats and sodium is a great strategy for heart health. “Microwave meals” are one of the biggest threats to hear health and should be avoided.
- Regular Wellness Visits- Visit your doctor regularly to monitor your numbers and manage conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, and make sure they’re under control with medication and lifestyle choices.
- Reduce Stress- Stress is an added risk factor on top of those that many elder adults already face, It is important to find healthy outlets to relieve stress such as exercise.
- Sleep- Research shows a relationship between increased risk of coronary heart disease and sleeping less than hours per night. Ideally, keep a regular schedule of going to be and waking up at the same times daily, and aim for 7-8 hours of sleep per night.
Interventions and Treatments
In the future onset of heart disease could be prevented or delayed through interventions in middle-aged patients that slow the progression of the aging heart and arteries. Gene therapies and drugs that target the cell changes during aging are cutting edge approaches that may help us intervene and prevent heart disease. However, because people who assume they are healthy do not prioritize their heath health, cardiovascular disease can sneak up on them. Therefore it is crucial to focus earlier in life on what is within our own control, rather than waiting for cardiovascular disease to strike. More info on preventing heart disease can be found on the American Heart Association website https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living
About the Author: Pam Reynolds, CMC is the President and co-owner of Allegiance Aging Care Services. Pam has spent almost fifteen years working in senior care including long term care facilities and home health care. Her higher education is in Social Work, and she has been credentialed as both a certified Geriatric Care Manager and Licensed Assisted Living Administrator. Read more about Pam and her team of Aging Care Professionals here.