Promoting Healthy Aging

Spotlight on Heart Health

Promoting Healthy Aging

A big part of living your best life as you age is how you take care of your body. As you age, change is inevitable — especially when it comes to matters of the heart. It’s never too late to make lifestyle changes to avoid, decrease the likelihood, or lessen the effects of aging on your heart. 

Heart Health Tips 

Fact: the older you get, the higher your chances of heart disease or a heart attack. In fact, in your 60s, about 20% of men and 10% of women have heart disease. By age 80, those numbers grow to 32% of men and nearly 19% of women.

If you didn’t already know, heart disease is, in fact, the leading cause of death in the U.S. Aging typically causes changes in the heart and blood vessels. As you get older, your heart doesn’t beat as fast as it once did during physical activity or times of stress. What’s mentionable, though, is that the number of heartbeats per minute (heart rate) at rest does not change significantly with normal aging.

It goes without saying that most parents prefer to take care of themselves, and most prefer not to view themselves as needing help. If your parent hasn’t made the greatest lifestyle changes in the foreseeable past, your care and support can make a huge difference in managing their health and encouraging them to remain independent.

Here are five senior heart health tips to keep in mind: 

Remind Your Parent to Get Regular Checkups

If your parent is used to taking care of everything themselves or is a fairly private person, it’s likely they won’t mention changes in their health. Even if they feel a little chest pain, parents who prefer their privacy oftentimes don't want to be a bother or a burden to their adult children, and this can lead to withholding 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.

Everybody should know their blood pressure, cholesterol level, and body mass index, says John Dodson, MD, MPH, director, NYU Langone Geriatric Cardiology Program.

If it has been a while since your parent saw their doctor, encourage them to schedule an appointment.

Incorporate Regular Exercise 

"Research continues to show that exercise is the best way to slow your heart's aging process," says Dr. Aaron Baggish, director of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. 

One of the best ways your parent can protect their heart is by increasing or maintaining a physically active lifestyle. If your parent isn’t the type to join a fitness class or participate in a regimented exercise, staying active can include activities they enjoy, like gardening, fishing, tai chi, housework, or walking in the park.

If your parent insists 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. As the old adage goes — a body at rest stays at rest. 

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.

Make Important Lifestyle Changes 

Quitting smoking and drinking less aren’t easy lifestyle changes, no matter your age. As hard as it may be, if your parent smokes, remind them it’s never too late to get some benefit from quitting. Quitting is the first step toward improved health.

You may also want to consider discussing their intake of alcohol. If you notice that their drinking has increased, this can be a sign of depression or increased anxiety. While you should be gentle in approaching your parent, avoiding the conversation altogether can be detrimental to their health. 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.

Eliminate or Find Healthy Ways to Manage Stress

You would hope that with retirement and old age comes less stress, however, the loss of loved ones or friends, health challenges, and financial concerns can leave many older adults feeling sad 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 to managing stress, relaxing, and coping with life’s challenges. Encourage your parent to find positive ways to relieve stress and lower their heart disease risk, such as aromatherapy, massage, meditation, and staying connected with family and friends.

Eat Heart-Healthy Foods

Maintaining a well-balanced diet can be challenging the older we get. Our bodies change, medications can make it more difficult to enjoy the taste of food, and our nutritional needs change. 

Here are 8 heart-healthy foods and habits to consider. 

The fact is, as you age it becomes even more important to fuel your body with the right foods. Avoid sitting your parent down and putting them on the defensive by randomly mentioning they should eat healthier. Most people don’t respond well to this type of criticism — especially when it’s coming from a child you raised. Instead, find natural ways to encourage your parent to eat a variety of heart-healthy foods. For example, offer to take your mom or dad to the grocery store the next time they need to go and gently ask them about nutritious foods as you walk through the store. You can also remind them of recipes they used to cook when you were growing up as a way to encourage re-introducing a more balanced diet. Keep in mind that eating nutritious foods will help to have more energy and can significantly impact mood.

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