Baby Boomers’ Guide to Heart Health

Key questions to ask your primary care doc

senior couple looking at card

For baby boomers, exercising, eating right and seeing a doctor regularly couldn’t be more important. They are entering the years when health risks rise – when heart disease, heart attacks and strokes become more of a concern.

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Leslie Cho, MD, Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Women’s Cardiovascular Center, says people need to see their primary care physician every year. Otherwise, problems could go undiagnosed or untreated. Unfortunately, this happens all too often.

“A lot of guys don’t see a physician unless they’re nagged to death by their wives,” she says. “Women don’t see an internist until they’re at menopause. We lose a real opportunity.”

She says baby boomers should be prepared with questions to get the most from their primary care visits.

Dr. Cho provides questions to ask, including how she would answer her own patients:

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1. How often should I have cholesterol and glucose checked?

Dr. Cho recommends that at age 20, people begin to get their cholesterol and glucose checked. They should recheck them every five years — or annually if they show risk factors. They should also maintain a body weight and body mass index (BMI) within normal range.

2. Should some people be checked earlier?

Yes. Dr. Cho says people should be checked earlier if they have a family history of early heart disease, meaning immediate family diagnosed with this condition “before 55 for men and before 65 for women.” She says it’s important to know their blood pressure numbers. “If their blood pressure is high, they should get started on diet and exercise and, if they need to, treatment,” she says.

3. What about diet and exercise?  

Baby boomers should talk to their doctors about diet. She often recommends the Mediterranean diet, which she says is “the best out there.” Boomers should engage in “brisk” exercise for at least 30 minutes on “most days,” she says. “If you can’t have more than a three-word conversation, that’s brisk exercise.”

4. What if I’m older and haven’t been on task until now?

People in their 50s and 60s who haven’t engaged in such healthy behaviors in their younger adult years start out behind the curve, but they should still get started, Dr. Cho says. “Even if you didn’t do them earlier, it’s never too late.” And if you’re a smoker, it’s not too late to quit.

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Of course, Dr. Cho hopes people aren’t just starting to think about being heart-healthy after age 50. “These heart conditions are not things you get overnight,” she says. The decisions you make all through your life determine your heart health.

More information

Find ways to love your heart through a unique, interactive experience: Love Your Heart

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