7 Ways to Keep Your Heart Healthy as You Get Older

Even though heart disease risks increase with age, ticker trouble doesn’t have to be an inevitable part of getting older.

“Heart disease doesn't go hand in hand with aging,” says cardiologist Claire Sullivan, MD. “You can keep your heart healthy, no matter how old you are, by making smart lifestyle choices and getting regular checkups.”

To maintain a healthy heart as you age, avoid these five harmful habits:

  1. Smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke
  2. Being inactive
  3. Eating poorly
  4. Being overweight
  5. Drinking too much alcohol

The good news is that it’s never too late to become heart smart. Here are seven steps you can follow to keep your ticker in tip-top shape:

  1. Avoid tobacco. “Smoking puts people at a greater risk of heart attack as they age,” Dr. Sullivan says. “Smoking increases blood pressure, decreases exercise tolerance and increases the tendency for blood to clot. If you are unable to break the habit alone, talk to your doctor about ways to quit smoking.”
  2. Be active. “You can increase your metabolism and your heart rate by exercising 30 minutes a day, three or four times a week,” she says. “Take baby steps when you begin exercising. Even moderate exercise is a good defense against heart disease.”
  3. Aim for a healthy weight. “As people age, they may notice body changes, including reduced muscle mass and a slower metabolism,” Dr. Sullivan says. “If you're overweight, losing just a few pounds can make a difference in your blood pressure, blood sugar levels and bone health.”
  4. Eat right. Filling your plate with nutrient-rich foods goes a long way toward keeping your ticker healthy. Your choices should include fruits and vegetables, lean meat, poultry and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon and trout. And don’t be shy about adding nuts and fiber to your diet to keep you full and lower your cholesterol levels. Always read nutrition labels to get the most nutrition from your food.
  5. Cut down on salt. “If you eat too much salt, which is often hidden in processed and fast foods, the extra water stored in your body raises your blood pressure,” Dr. Sullivan says. “The higher your blood pressure, the greater the strain on your heart, arteries, kidneys and brain.”
  6. Manage stress. Aging may present challenges such as health issues, adjusting to retirement, loss of loved ones and reduced income. Long-term stress causes the heart rate to increase and blood pressure to rise. Learning how to manage your stress by practicing relaxing techniques is good for your heart
  7. Have regular checkups. “As people age, their body chemistry and weight changes,” Dr. Sullivan says. “It’s important to have routine checkups – including blood work – and to have the dosages of your medications adjusted based on your age and weight. Also let your doctor know if you are having any side effects from your medications, which might adversely affect your ticker.”

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S. In fact, statistics show that 84 percent of people age 65 years and older die from heart disease.

Claire Sullivan, MD, is a cardiologist and Chief Cardiology Fellow at University Hospitals Cleveland Medical Center. You can request an appointment or any University Hospitals doctor online.

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