February is Heart Month, which is a good time to renew or begin your efforts to keep your heart healthy. Your heart pumps blood to all the other organs in your body. A heart that isn’t healthy is more vulnerable to disease – and that can lead to other serious health problems.
The good news is that there are many ways you can help your heart. Eating healthy, watching your weight, exercising, controlling high blood pressure and not smoking are all great steps toward heart health. Even better, these measures are interconnected and provide multiple health benefits!
Here are five steps you can incorporate into your lifestyle to protect your heart health.
1. Eat the rainbow
Good nutrition is good for your heart. A heart-healthy diet includes foods rich in whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy products, and limited saturated and trans fats.
The American Heart Association recommends filling at least half your plate with fruits and vegetables to meet its recommended total of 4-½ cups per day. You can reach this goal by eating fruit instead of sweets or a baked snack. Add diced vegetables to scrambled eggs and chopped or pureed vegetables to sauces and soups. Eating more fruits and vegetables is also a great way to watch your weight and reduce your sodium intake – two more factors that contribute to heart health.
Good nutrition to support heart health is especially important for seniors. For those living In senior care communities like Elderwood, a network of senior living communities in the Northeast, it’s easier to take advantage of the expertise of on-staff nutrition experts.
“It’s important to remember to ‘eat from the rainbow’ especially for seniors, in order to include more food groups – and to ensure you’re getting a high vegetable and high fruit intake,” states Amy Julicher, Elderwood’s Director of Nutritional Services.
2. Maintain a healthy weight
Being overweight puts an added strain on your heart and can be a risk factor for heart disease, diabetes and other health issues. On the flip side, being underweight as we age can indicate malnourishment or the presence of other chronic illnesses.
You can get a general sense of your weight category by calculating your Body Mass Index (BMI). However, BMI does not provide the full picture of a person’s body fat or overall health. If you are concerned about your weight, it’s best to consult with your doctor and set realistic goals for weight loss. You may also want to consult with a professional dietitian or nutritionist – their services may be covered under your health insurance.
3. Exercise regularly
Your heart is a muscle, so when your body is active, you help keep your heart in shape, too!
According to a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, and cited by Harvard Health Publishing, exercise lowers your blood pressure, makes the heart less prone to arrhythmia and allows it to work more efficiently. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week to improve your quality of life. Move more, with more intensity, and sit less.
If you don’t feel comfortable going to a gym or in-person exercise class right now, take a brisk walk, look on-line for fitness classes offered via Zoom and YouTube, pop in a DVD, or turn on the music and dance! Even doing some active housecleaning can raise your heart rate and count toward your daily activity goal.
For more senior fitness tips and workouts, click here.
4. Control high blood pressure
If you have high blood pressure, then you already know how important it is to keep it under control. There are several measures you can take to help achieve this goal: increase your activity, lose weight, eat healthy, limit alcohol, reduce stress, monitor your blood pressure and take your medications as prescribed.
Reducing your salt intake also can help control blood pressure. Seniors tend to become more sensitive to sodium, which means their blood pressure is more likely to drop when they cut back on salt in their later years (WebMD). Healthy adults are advised to consume no more than 2,300 mg. of sodium a day. That’s less than a teaspoon! However, those with high blood pressure should aim for 1,500 mg. per day.
You can start controlling your sodium levels by looking for lower-salt options in the foods you buy. Avoid processed snacks and aim to consume more fruits and vegetables. Also be mindful of condiments, salad dressings, soups and sauces – which can contain hundreds of milligrams of sodium in just one serving.
5. Don’t smoke
Smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease. It can raise triglycerides in your blood, lower good cholesterol, increase the buildup of plaque in your arteries and make blood more likely to clot, says the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA).
Older adults who have smoked for several years may question if there is any benefit to quit smoking, and the answer is YES. Your body begins to recover from the effects of nicotine in as little as 20 minutes. After two weeks, your circulation and lung function begin to improve. A year after quitting, your risk of coronary heart disease is reduced by 50 percent. By quitting smoking, you can also lower your risk of stroke, other cancers and lung disease. The National Institute on Aging provides more information and resources specifically designed for seniors who wish to quit smoking.
You can take control of your heart health
While genetics can pre-dispose you to heart disease, many other factors are involved – and most of them are within your control. They boil down to maintaining a proactive attitude toward your well-being and making intelligent lifestyle choices to give your heart the best chance to remain strong and healthy.