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American Heart Month: Heart Healthy Tips for Seniors

By Scripps AMG
image of an older couple cutting vegetables and making a smoothie to celebrate American Heart Month

February isn’t only a month to celebrate hearts found on Valentine’s Day cards or inside boxes of dark chocolates. February is designated as American Heart Month to advocate cardiovascular health and raise awareness about heart disease. So this month, we encourage you to love and care for your heart!

The first American Heart Month took place in 1964, when more than half of deaths in the United States were due to cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, heart disease (a type of cardiovascular disease) is still the country’s main source of death. But with increased awareness, education and lifestyle changes, we can help more Americans live longer, fuller, healthier lives.

Americans’ increasingly sedentary and inactive lifestyle is a primary cause of cardiovascular diseases (CVD). Fast food, smoking, diabetes, stress and lack of medical visits are other major causes of CVD. However, these diseases are easily preventable with a healthy diet and active lifestyle.

While many people believe that CVD inevitably comes with old age, it is just a myth. There are many things that seniors (and people of all ages) can do to strengthen their heart and circulatory system before something tragic occurs.

Below are some of our most important tips to keep seniors’ hearts healthy:

  • Exercise almost every day of the week. Try to get at least 30 minutes of light exercise five or six days a week, along with muscle-strengthening exercises twice a week. This can include walking, jogging, hiking, cycling, swimming, aerobics, yoga and even gardening. (Please make sure you check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.) It doesn’t have to be challenging to squeeze in small workouts, for example, you can walk your or a friend’s/neighbor’s dog twice a week, walk around the block as you talk on the phone to a loved one or go swimming with your grandchildren.
  • Eat healthier. Limit or completely cut out fatty foods and red meat from your diet, while adding more fresh fruits and vegetables to every meal. Make sure your body has three servings of whole grains each day and plenty of fiber, while greatly reducing the amount of sodium, saturated fat, cholesterol and sugar you consume. Additionally, make sure you don’t drink more than two cups of coffee per day. Green and black tea may be better alternatives, because they have a lower amount of caffeine, while also containing disease-preventing antioxidants.

Need some grocery tips? Here’s a list of the top foods (and Drinks) for a healthy heart.

  • Quit smoking and/or drinking alcohol. If you still regularly smoke tobacco products or drink alcohol – no matter your age – you should quit. Tobacco and excessive alcohol use have been proven to cause cancers and chronic diseases that may lead to death.
  • Ask your doctor about your heart health. Be sure to schedule regular checkups with your doctor to monitor your blood pressure, other vital signs and symptoms of any diseases. This will keep you on top of your health and will decrease your chances of getting preventable diseases. Set goals for improving your heart health and always take medication as prescribed by your doctor.

When it comes to heart health, there are so many different specialties, conditions and terminologies. Educate yourself on the basics: Understanding Heart Care.

  • Get better sleep. It’s critical for seniors (and everyone) to have a full night’s sleep. Most experts say that seniors should sleep between seven and nine hours each night. Sleep is beneficial for brain functionality, emotional well-being, metabolism, immune functionality and for damaged cell and tissue repair.
  • Reduce stress in your life. Stress isn’t good for a person’s mind or body, and high levels of stress have definitely been linked to CVD. There are so many healthy outlets to relieve stress, find one or a few that work for you and keep with it! For example, consider engaging in church activities, phone calls with relatives, volunteering, yoga, meditation, exercise, music or a weekly class/club that performs fun activities.

Studies have shown that pets may play a role in improving our mental health. Here are 7 ways pets improve your mental health.

Risk factors for heart disease:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Excessive caffeine consumption
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Inactive lifestyle

Major warning signs for heart attacks:

  • Chest pain or chest discomfort
  • Pain in the upper body, arms, back, neck, jaw or upper stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Feeling faint or dizzy
  • Cold sweats

Heart health stats:

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S.
  • One in four American deaths is due to heart disease
  • Cardiovascular diseases are the leading cause of death for people throughout the world
  • On average, someone dies of a cardiovascular disease every 40 seconds
  • More than 17.3 million people (worldwide) pass away every year due to a cardiovascular disease
  • More than 23.6 million people are expected to pass away every year due to a cardiovascular disease starting in 2030, unless trends change
  • One out of every 20 American deaths is caused by a stroke
  • About 735,000 Americans have a heart attack each year (one person every 40 seconds)
  • African Americans have higher rates of heart disease than white Americans (as well as more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure)
  • Heart disease and stroke are the primary killers for Latino Americans

A 2013 report from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention found that 80 percent of deaths from heart disease were preventable. Take this opportunity to educate the seniors in your life about important dietary and lifestyle changes that will promote heart health. For more lifestyle tips for healthy seniors, check out Scripps Affiliated Medical Groups’ articles.

CATEGORIES: Chronic CareNutritionSeniors