Aside from your brain, your heart is one of the most important organs in your body. The heart is a large muscle that pumps blood into our bodies. The right-side pumps blood to the lungs and the left side receives blood from the lungs and redistributes it through the arteries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States and the statistics don’t vary much between race or ethnic groups. For older adults, maintaining heart health is the key to living a long and healthy life.
As we age, our bodies go through physical changes, many of which are obvious, such as the appearance of wrinkles or changes in mobility. However, some changes, like those in our heart, go unrecognized. Aging can cause changes within the heart and blood vessels that can put older adults more at risk of developing various heart conditions Increased stiffness in large arteries can lead to high blood pressure. Other changes, like those within our body’s electrical system, can cause arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeat. As we age, the chambers of the heart can increase in size, causing the heart wall to thicken and develop heart rhythm problems, such as atrial fibrillation. Fatty deposits can build up in the walls of our arteries over many years, which can ultimately lead to heart disease.
Cardiovascular disease encompasses a wide variety of conditions and diseases that can affect our heart function and overall quality of life. While there are many types of heart conditions, here are a few of the most common among older adults:
Coronary artery disease (CAD)
This type of cardiovascular disease occurs when the coronary arteries harden and narrow, causing blockages in the vessels that provide blood to the heart. The development of CAD happens over time and can eventually restrict blood to the heart completely. This can cause a heart attack, stroke, and other heart-related diseases.
Heart attacks usually occur when blood is severely restricted to the heart or completely blocked off, as in the case of coronary artery disease. However, heart attacks can also occur when substances, like fat, cholesterol, and plaque, build up and restricts access to blood to the heart. Heart attacks can result in permanent damage or death to part of the heart muscle.
This occurs when the heart develops an irregular rate of rhythm. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, too slow, or irregularly, causing blood to pump ineffectively to the lungs, brain, and other organs. If an arrhythmia goes untreated, it can cause damage to the organs.
Heart failure occurs when the heart’s ability to pump blood becomes weakened. Blood will eventually move throughout the body at a slower rate, increasing pressure in the heart and reducing the amount of blood and oxygen in the body’s cells.
This is a progressive disease that causes the heart to become enlarged and thickened, limiting the heart’s ability to pump blood. Cardiomyopathy can cause other heart conditions such as heart failure or arrhythmias.
Early heart disease doesn’t normally show symptoms, that’s why visiting your doctor annually is so important. Chest pain and heart attack are usually the first signs of progressing heart disease. According to the National Institute on Aging, here are some of the most common symptoms of heart disease and heart attack:
• Chest pain or discomfort that doesn’t subside
• Pain and discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back
• Weakness, light-headedness, and nausea
• Shortness of breath when active, at rest, or while lying flat
• Cold sweats
• Tiredness or fatigue
• Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach, or neck
• Reduced ability to exercise
• Problems doing normal activities
If you experience any of these symptoms, be sure to contact your health care provider right away.
While genetics can play a role in the development of heart disease, some factors can be controlled to help reduce the risk of the disease. Simple lifestyle changes, such as eating healthy and exercising consistently, can help prevent heart disease. If you’re wondering how to keep your heart healthy, here are a few simple ways:
Control portion sizes.
Eating more than you need can contribute to obesity, which is a key risk factor for heart disease. If you struggle with overeating, you might consider using a small plate or bowl to help you control your portions. Stick with high volume, low calorie, and nutrient-rich foods to help you stay full and maintain your weight.
Eat more fruits and vegetables.
Consuming a proper amount of fruits and vegetables with each meal can help prevent cardiovascular disease. Also, eating more fruits and vegetables can help you cut back on high-calorie foods. Keep fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables on hand so they are available for quick snacks and meals. Smoothies, soups, and salads are great ways to pack in servings of vegetables and fruits.
Eat whole grains.
Whole-grain foods are great sources of fiber and help regulate blood pressure and maintain heart health. You can easily add whole grains into your diet by swapping white bread for whole-grain bread and pasta. Brown rice, barley, and buckwheat are also whole-grain foods that are great for heart health.
Consuming a lot of sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Canned vegetables and processed foods are usually high in sodium. Instead, you might consider buying low-sodium options and making foods at home. Try salt-free seasoning blends, herbs and spices, and reduced salt versions of condiments.
Physical activity is extremely important when it comes to protecting your heart. Just 30 minutes of activity each day will strengthen your heart and help maintain proper heart function start with activities you enjoy such as walking, dancing, bicycling, or gardening.
While smoking is dangerous by itself, it can also damage artery walls in your heart. Quitting can lower your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer over time.
Long-term stress puts pressure on the heart and can lead to high blood pressure. It’s important to learn how to manage stress and put relaxation techniques into practice. Yoga, breathing exercises, and tai chi can help manage your stress and allow you to relax, taking the pressure off your heart.
At Maplewood Senior Living, we know the important role heart health plays in living a long and happy life. Heart-healthy habits are instilled in each element of living in our Maplewood communities. From our experienced team of chefs to exercise offerings and stress management activities, our goal is to keep our residents healthy and happy. To learn more about our offerings or to schedule a tour, please contact us.
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