The human heart is a muscle that pumps blood through the body. Keeping the heart strong and healthy keeps our organs and tissues strong and healthy, too.
Aging can cause changes in the heart and blood vessels and may increase your risk of heart disease.
Heart disease is the second leading cause of death in Canada and erodes the quality of life of millions of older people. If you’re over age 65, you stand a higher chance of developing heart disease or having a heart attack.
Never too late
The good news? Even at a later age, you can reduce your risk of heart disease by making smart choices.
“Self-management is an important component of preventing and managing any chronic condition, including heart disease,” says Jane Brownrigg, a clinical manager in the Division of Cardiac Prevention and Rehabilitation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute. “Be an active, not a passive manager of your health, and follow these tips!”
1. Eat well
As the old saying goes, “you are what you eat.” What we eat affects our overall health, including our heart.
As a basic guideline, try to minimize processed foods and sugary drinks and focus on eating fresh. If you’re a senior living at home, make the effort every day to prepare three balanced meals – not just tea and toast!
Choose healthy ingredients, try new recipes, and enjoy the results. One senior we know invites friends to her place for dinner once a month, to share her culinary creations.
If you are living in a retirement residence, choose meals with lots of vegetables, opt for salads when they’re offered, and have fresh fruit as a snack. Not seeing what you want on the menu? Speak to the
culinary staff about including more heart-healthy meals.
2. Get physical
As we age, our bodies lose muscle mass. We can strengthen our heart muscle through cardio exercise. You don’t need to sweat it out in a 20 km marathon! Engaging in light cardio activities like swimming, walking, or low-level aerobics can improve your health. Whether at home or in a residence, you can:
- Join a community mall walking group
- Sign up for a group class – chair Zumba and other chair exercises are very popular
- Take the plunge with aqua-fit
- Partner with a buddy and walk the floor of your building for 15 minutes a day. You can do this in all weather conditions!
If you’re concerned about stability, be sure to use a walker or cane for safety. And always check with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
3. Manage stress
Stress is a part of life, but it’s how we respond to it that affects our well-being. While more research is needed to explore the link between stress and heart disease, we do know that people sometimes try to deal with problems through smoking, over-eating, and drinking alcohol excessively. These behaviours can affect your blood pressure and may damage the artery walls of your heart.
(While we’re on the subject: no one needs to be told how bad smoking is for you and those around you.
Ready to kick the addiction? Check out some local programs near you.)
We all experience the pressures of life differently, so there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for managing them. You might want to try out different stress reduction techniques to discover the ones that work best for you. Here are a few to get you started.
Read. Reading slows your heart rate, eases muscle tension, and alters your state of mind.
Meditate. Focusing deeply on the here and now means you can’t re-live what happened in the past or worry about what might happen in the future.
Take a nap. Deep and restful sleep is critical to good heart health. Did you know that napping in the daytime can help you get a good night’s sleep?
Listen to music. Whether it’s classical, pop or jazz, music has been shown to improve blood flow, among many other benefits.
Play with a pet. Interacting with an affectionate animal can lower people’s stress levels and help deal with health conditions like heart disease.
4. Take your medications
Managing your medications appropriately will reduce your risk of hospitalization and cardiac events (such as a heart attack) and is an important part of managing your heart health.
Take your medications as prescribed. Speak to the physician who prescribed the medication if you are experiencing side effects.
Learn about your medication. Understanding why you are taking a medication will help you.
Have questions? Pharmacists have a wealth of knowledge and can teach and advise you about the medications you are taking.
Get the shot. Find out which vaccines you should get annually, so you can protect your health.
As you can see, even making small changes can be good for your heart health.
Armed with the right information, you can be empowered to make choices that can keep your ticker ticking for many years to come.