By Dr. HoHai Van,
With heart disease being the leading cause of death in the United States, it’s important for you to be conscious of your heart health.
HoHai Van, M.D., FACC, FSCAI, interventional cardiologist, MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute, Saddleback Medical Center. (Photo courtesy of MemorialCare)
Older adults who are ages 65 and older are much more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke, with approximately 80% of heart disease deaths occurring in this age group, according to the American Heart Association. Obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol all contribute to the large amount of heart disease related deaths.
The good news is, it’s never too late, no matter how old you are, to make changes that could greatly improve your health. Creating a healthy diet and exercise routine that works within your capabilities can help you manage and prevent high blood pressure and high cholesterol — and potentially extend your golden years.
How to maintain a healthy diet
All of us are used to doing things the way we once did.
But while you may have once been able to eat very greasy foods with no repercussions – as we age, we need to look at ways to make small changes to help us stay healthy.
I wouldn’t expect anyone to make all these changes at once. But try to select one or two to start. Once you’ve mastered those, look for more ways you can improve your hearth health. But here are some changes you can try:
Eat more fruits and vegetables: Changing the way you present your meal on your plate could help you get more fruits and vegetables into your diet. Diets rich in fruits and vegetables can help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of heart disease. Try to have at least two servings of fruits and vegetables on your plate each meal to help you get the adequate vitamins and nutrients.
Substitute refined grains for whole grains: You may have a routine where you walk to the local coffee shop each morning, but try to skip the pastry, or limit it to maybe one or two a month. One of the culprits for high blood pressure is refined grains, such as white bread and pastries. Try to substitute with healthier options, such as whole-wheat flour and bread, whole grains, whole grain pasta and oatmeal.
Limit unhealthy fats: Foods with high levels of trans fats can lead to high cholesterol levels, which can cause a buildup of plaque in the arteries and increase your risk for heart attack or stroke. Simple ways to reduce the amount of trans fat in your diet include using less butter and margarine while cooking and choosing lean meat options. Be sure to check the nutrition labels on your food to see their trans-fat amounts.
Reduce sodium intake: Eating foods high in sodium can lead to high blood pressure, which can damage your heart or lead to a stroke. Older adults should eat no more than 1,500 mg of sodium in a day, so be sure to check the nutrition labels on your food to see how much sodium they have. Do your best to stay away from canned options since most of them have higher sodium levels. When seasoning your food, be sure to use herbs and spice instead of salt and high sodium condiments (e.g., ketchup, mayonnaise, soy sauce) to help reduce your sodium intake.
How to create a healthy, sustainable exercise routine
Low-impact exercise is a great way for seniors to improve their heart health.
It helps to lower blood pressure, lessens your risk of diabetes, and reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke. Exercise keeps your heart healthy, boosts your metabolism and helps keep your body active to accomplish everyday activities.
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For adults who are ages 65 and older, it is recommended you do at least 150 minutes a week of moderate activity, like walking, dancing, gardening or outdoor activities at family gatherings. Start by finding ways to fit exercise into your everyday routine to make it a habitual, convenient part of your day.
For seniors with limited mobility, you can still do low-impact exercises, such as tai chi, yoga and water aerobics. Low impact exercises are a great way to stay active without adding extra stress to your joints and bones.
As you age, it’s important to remember the heart is one of the most important organs in the body, pumping millions of gallons of blood to provide oxygen and nutrients to the entire body.
It’s never too late to start focusing or refocusing on your heart health — to ensure you continue to live a healthy, long life.
Dr. Hohai Van is an interventional cardiologist at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center who specializes in percutaneous interventions for coronary artery disease. Van received his medical degree at the University of Arizona in Tuscon, completed his internship and residency requirements at Stanford University, and went on to complete his Cardiology Fellowship at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, where he was appointed chief fellow in the Division of Cardiology. He then returned to Stanford University to complete a fellowship training program in interventional cardiology.