While it’s normal to see some changes in heart health as you age, getting older doesn’t mean you can’t have a healthy heart.
“Many of the problems older individuals have with the heart and blood vessels are caused by other diseases associated with aging and not aging itself,” says Michael Rocco, MD, Medical Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation and Stress Testing, Section of Preventive Cardiology, at Cleveland Clinic.
For example, aging can predispose you to high blood pressure, which is a known risk factor for heart disease. So keeping your blood pressure down can minimize your risk for developing heart disease in your 60s and 70s — and even into your 80s and beyond.
There are a number of lifestyle changes that can help to prevent heart disease as you age. Here’s what Dr. Rocco recommends:
Your body’s ability to effectively pump oxygen to your heart declines each decade as you age, so it’s important to exercise regularly. And Dr. Rocco says it’s never too late to begin an exercise program.
He says that exercise is an excellent way to manage:
If you have musculoskeletal problems or a chronic illness that makes exercise difficult, you may need a modified exercise program that’s more suited to your abilities. But Dr. Rocco says even a simple walking program can go a long way toward improving your heart health.
Look for programs that are specifically geared toward older people or perhaps a water exercise program. And talk to your doctor to make sure you’re healthy enough to start whatever program you’re considering.
Nobody likes to hear the word “diet.” But a heart-healthy diet is especially important as you age.
That doesn’t mean you have to cut out your favorite foods completely. Avoid trans fats and put a limit on those that include saturated fats, salt and refined sugar. And add some heart-healthy foods from the Mediterranean diet like salmon, berries, nuts and olive oil.
This is a tough one, as cigarettes are extremely addictive. But it’s not impossible and is an absolute must if you want to protect your heart as you age.
Smoking is a major cause of atherosclerosis (a disease in which plaque can build up in your arteries). The plaque restricts blood flow to your heart and other organs, which can lead to heart attack or stroke.
If you’ve tried and failed to quit smoking in the past, don’t be discouraged. Most people who try to quit are unsuccessful the first time around. And the good news is, it’s never too late to improve your health by quitting.
No matter how hard it seems, keep in mind that you don’t have to go it alone. There are tons of resources you can use that will help; so get in touch with your doctor and ask for help with a plan to quit.
Another tough one. But here’s a weight loss method that may allow you to actually eat more food and still lose weight. Instead of concentrating on limiting all foods that are bad, try eating more foods that are good for you (for example, aim for five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables each day).
If you do that, you may find yourself naturally limiting the foods that aren’t as healthy. So you won’t even miss them.
Things like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity can all lead to heart disease if they’re not well controlled. If you have a chronic condition that could affect your heart, make sure you’re following your doctor’s treatment plan.
Regular screenings and examinations can help identify heart problems before you end up having a heart attack or stroke.
“Preventive screening in general should begin early in life and continue as we age,” Dr. Rocco says. Consult with your doctor on how often you should have your blood pressure, blood sugar, blood counts and cholesterol tested, especially if you’re taking medications to control chronic conditions.
Never ignore possible signs of trouble, including things like:
Those symptoms may not simply be the consequences of aging. “These should warrant evaluation by a physician,” Dr. Rocco says.
So take action now so you won’t have to sit out your golden years. Following these seven tips can go a long way toward keeping your heart healthy and allowing you to enjoy them to the fullest.