The heart is the strongest muscle in the body, and certainly the most hard-working. However, contrary to popular belief, heart problems need not be inevitable in old age. With the right lifestyle, diet, and activity, older people can enjoy hearts as strong and healthy as those who are half their age.
How your heart changes with age
As people grow older, so too does their heart. Older people are twice more likely than younger people to develop heart conditions, which results in disabilities that can drastically reduce their quality of life. While this is certainly sobering to consider, it’s very much something that can be avoided. Most heart conditions are a result of poor lifestyle habits and diets rather than anything strictly related to age.
For example, a common issue that arises with the heart in older people is the build up of fatty deposits, known as cholesterol, within the arteries. These are a result of consuming food with high fat content, and the resultant build up reduces the amount of blood passing through the arteries. As you get older, this build up gets worse and worse until finally it can trigger a cardiac arrest or a stroke.
Another heart condition typical to older people is the hardening of the arteries, a process known as arteriosclerosis. This causes the walls of the arteries to become stiff and inflexible, which leads to higher blood pressure.
If you worry you may be developing a heart condition, watch out for the following symptoms:
Shortness of breath, even when resting
Difficulty doing normal activities
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, get in contact with your doctor immediately. If they find you’re experiencing heart problems, they may send you to a cardiologist.
What you can do to prevent heart disease
As we’ve stressed earlier, heart disease is not a doom. With the right steps, it’s easily avoided, allowing you to enjoy a healthier heart for longer.
The most effective way to ensure a healthy heart in older people is ensuring they get plenty of physical exercise. Try to avoid days where you’re sat down in one place for hours at a time. You can try yoga or tai chi, go for a jog, ride a bicycle, or even do simpler exercises such as long walks, tidying the house or gardening. Try to get between 30 minutes and two hours of physical activity each day, and remember it doesn’t all have to be done at once. You can break it up into more manageable quarter hour chunks throughout the day.
Coupled with this, ensure you’re eating a balanced and healthy diet too. Remember that a chief cause of heart disease is a build up of fat in the arteries, so avoid foods with high fat content. That doesn’t mean you can’t have them at all, but the less the better. Avoid highly salted or sugary foods as well.
Instead try to eat plenty of fruit and vegetables, especially foods with plenty of fibre in them. Whole grain bread and white meats are fantastic staple foods as well.
Another habit you may want to quit if you’ve acquired it is smoking and drinking alcohol. The rates of heart disease are substantially increased in those who smoke, as tobacco causes fatty build ups in the arteries as well as thinning the walls. Alcohol, meanwhile, leads to increases in blood pressure and greater risk of heart diseases. Quit smoking entirely and reduce alcohol intake to a glass a day.
A final way to manage your heart is to minimise stress. Too much tension can cause increased blood pressure, erratic heart rates, and interrupt sleeping patterns. Avoid activities and situations that get you worked up and anxious, whether it’s watching the latest political furore on the news or awkward and fiddly tasks. Instead take up activities that you find relaxing and peaceful, such as painting, yoga, meditation or prayer, reading a book, or listening to music.
Try to talk frequently to friends, family and neighbours about anything troubling you, and consider seeking stress management courses to help you deal with any unresolved tension in your day to day life.
Are you considering getting support from a home carer? At SuperCarers, we help families find the best carers in their local area to match their care needs. Give us a call on 020 8629 1030 to discover the best home care options for you.
You may also be interested in our article about how to keep your bones strong as you age.