You’ve heard that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., so every time you walk into your dad’s house and he is sitting in his recliner, eating a bag of potato chips and watching TV, you worry about his heart health.
It’s not easy watching your parents age. Inevitably, there will come a time when you realize that your parents aren’t just aging — they’re seniors. With that comes an increased risk for a heart attack, a stroke, and heart disease.
This realization is scary. The thought of not having your parents at your side can be downright terrifying. However, it can be difficult to know how to help — or how much to help. Unfortunately, your comments about the importance of eating healthily and staying active can start to sound a lot like when you told your kids that it was time to go to bed.
Parents want to take care of themselves, their own needs, and their own health and prefer not to view themselves as needing help. Yet your care and support can make a huge difference in managing their health and retaining their independence.
The best way to protect your parent’s heart is to inspire and empower them to maintain their own heart health. Here is a look at five senior heart health tips for your aging parent.
1. Get Regular Checkups
It is likely that your older parent won’t mention changes in their health. Even if they feel a little chest pain, they don’t want to be a bother or a burden to you, so they often withhold important information about their health.
That’s why it’s important that they’re going to their primary care physician to get regular checkups to monitor health conditions that affect the heart, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
If it has been a while since your parent saw their doctor, encourage them to schedule an appointment.
2. Eat Nutrient-Dense Foods
Maintaining a well-balanced diet can be challenging the older you get. Your nutritional needs change, and certain medications can make it more difficult to enjoy the taste of food. Plus, aren’t you hopeful that, by the time you’re in your golden years, you can finally eat pizza and ice cream for every meal?
The fact is, as you age it becomes even more important to fuel your body with the right foods.
You probably don’t need to lecture your parent about how milk is better for them than sugar-sweetened drinks or that whole wheat bread and brown rice are better than white bread and rice. Instead, encourage them to eat from the rainbow of heart-healthy foods and remind them that eating nutritious foods will help them have more energy and feel better about themselves.
3. Get Moving
One of the best ways your parent can protect their heart is by being more physically active. That doesn’t mean they need to join a gym, though. Anything that gets them active — gardening, fishing, tai chi, heavy housework, tennis, walking in the park — is better than doing nothing at all.
If your parent insists that they’re “taking it easy” to save their strength, talk to them about how they actually might feel like they don’t have the strength because they’re taking it easy.
Staying active will help your parent maintain their independence and allow them to keep doing the things they enjoy, like keeping up with their grandkids at the park. If they don’t use it, they will lose it. Encourage them to see exercise as something that will help them maintain more control over their life. When you’re stronger, you can do more things for yourself.
4. Quit Smoking and Drink Less
If your parent smokes, remind them it’s never too late to get some benefit from quitting. Don’t let your dad convince you that there is no point in quitting at his age. Quitting is the first step toward improved health.
If you notice that their drinking appears to becoming more of an emphasis, encourage them to reduce their alcohol intake. A glass of red wine every now and then can be protective for the arteries, but doctors do not encourage drinking more than one glass a day.
5. Manage Stress
You would hope that with retirement and old age comes less stress. However, the loss of loved ones, health problems, and financial concerns can leave many older adults feeling sad, low, or stressed. Stress can compound many heart disease risks that your aging parent already faces.
Holistic health care, which is an approach to health and wellness that focuses on the mind, body, and spirit, offers many approaches for managing stress, relaxing, and coping with problems. Encourage them to find holistic outlets to relieve stress and lower their heart disease risk, such as aromatherapy, massage, meditation, and staying connected with family and friends.
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