As we age, changes in our hearts and blood vessels increase our risk of developing heart disease. Our arteries could harden, for example, or narrow from plaque that builds up over time. Our heart muscles might naturally weaken as we get older, or we could experience hypertension and high blood pressure. It’s little wonder that cardiovascular disease is most prevalent among people age 65 and older.
There are precautions you can take at any age to lower your risk of heart disease. And February—American Heart Month—is a fitting time to review those steps.
Assess your risks with a physician.
Discussing your heart health with a physician can help identify your overall risk of experiencing cardiovascular problems. Tell your doctor about any family history with heart disease, any common heart disease symptoms you ever experienced (such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or numbness in your shoulders, arms, neck, or jaw), and any medical conditions you have with known connections to heart illness(i.e., high blood pressure, diabetes).
Be sure to inform your physician about any medications you take. Some prescription drugs have reported side effects linked to heart problems. Others are known to reduce the effectiveness of other medicines. Make sure to update your doctor about any changes in your medication list since your last visit.
Stay physically active.
Regular exercise has many benefits, and keeping your heart healthy is one of them. And that doesn‘t change just because you get older.
As a general rule, try to get 150 minutes or more of moderate-intensity exercise every week. Find physical activities that you enjoy doing—such as walking, biking, gardening, or dancing—to help keep yourself motivated. Of course, discuss any new exercise programs with your doctor before beginning.
Some might argue that older adults should “take it easy” and reserve their energy. But inactivity can diminish your physical strength and rob you of the ability to remain independent. Whatever your age, regular exercise is critical to cardiovascular health.
Lose any bad habits.
It’s never too late to make lifestyle changes that affect your heart health. Take cigarette smoking as an example. Smoking is a leading cause of heart disease and is responsible for a third of cardiovascular-related deaths. If you currently smoke, quit.
Other bad habits to kick include overeating (especially fatty, sugary, or salty foods), drinking alcohol in excess (more than one drink a day), and getting overstressed. Your physician can recommend resources to help you overcome harmful habits.
Maintain a healthy weight.
It’s not uncommon to gain weight as we get older. Metabolisms often slow with age, changing the way our bodies get energy from the food we eat. While an aging body still needs nutrients, it likely needs less food for energy. Without reducing the calories we consume or increasing our physical exercise, we risk becoming obese.
Obesity contributes to heart disease in several ways, including altering cholesterol levels, causing high blood pressure, and increasing the chances for diabetes. Regular exercise, along with a nutritiously balanced diet, can help you maintain a healthy weight.