Elder Well-Being Alert: Healthy Heart Update

Cardiovascular diseases, like heart disease, affect adults 65 and older more than any other age group. A large part of the reason why this is so is because as people age, so does their heart. Aging changes the appearance and function of the heart. In severe cases, a blood vessel can become so clogged that it will trigger a heart attack because cholesterol is blocking the flow of blood to the heart.

How doctors check your heart

Doctors perform a series of medical tests to determine the health of your heart. They include checking your blood pressure and ordering blood tests. The blood test will help them identify if your blood vessels contain cholesterol or certain proteins. Cholesterol is dangerous because if too much of it accumulates a blood vessel may be blocked causing a heart attack or stroke. Proteins reveal if there is inflammation in the body. The doctor will also order an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to look at the electric activity in your heart. A chest x-ray is part of the usual workup to determine heart health and can determine if your heart is enlarged or your lungs contain too much fluid, signs of heart failure. An echocardiogram is a test involving sound waves that can detect and monitor heart disease. Lastly, the doctor can order a stress test, which is applying stress to the heart, in order to measure how it is performing.

Importance of an active lifestyle and balanced eating

Being underweight, overweight, or obese is linked to the increased risk for many health problems, including heart disease. If heart disease is combined with high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes – the trifecta of aging and diminished living capacity, an individual will have painful end to their lives.

How to maintain a healthy heart

Eating balanced meals with regular exercise and no more than one alcoholic drink for women and two for men, will help you stay healthy for longer periods of your life. To maintain a healthy heart, incorporate as many as these suggestions as possible into your daily living routines:

  1. Be more physically active (walking, swimming, and light weight lifting helps build stronger muscles and bones);
  2. Quit smoking or using recreational or illegal drugs (breathing will be much harder if you do not quit smoking);
  3. Keep a healthy heart diet (low trans and saturated fat and no added salts or sugars. Your feet will feel better);
  4. Maintain a healthy weight (your doctor can help you establish what that should be);
  5. Keep diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol under control (take your medications regularly and keep your doctor’s appointments to review your status); and
  6. Avoid drinking alcoholic beverages or soft drinks in excess;
  7. Keep stress low (stress can make any of these conditions more terrible).

For more assistance

Ask your health care provider about being active and about improving your healthy eating habits. For more information about healthy hears, contact the American Heart Association, or www.heart.org for more information.

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