How to Prevent Heart Disease as You Age

How to Prevent Heart Disease as You Age

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States for people of any gender. Unfortunately, you have no control over some factors that may increase your risk, such as genetics, gender, and race. And, even worse, aging increases your risk more. Men age 45 and older and women age 55 and older have a greater risk of developing heart disease. However, there are a lot of precautionary steps you can take to prevent heart disease as you age.

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What is Heart Disease?

There’s often a misconception that heart disease is one specific condition. It actually refers to many different types of heart conditions, including coronary artery disease, irregular heart rhythms, congenital heart defects, and heart valve disease. Heart disease is any condition that affects the heart’s function.

Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease in the U.S. It occurs when plaque builds up in your arteries and causes them to become blocked or narrowed. Think high cholesterol… This can lead to a heart attack or stroke. Symptoms include shortness of breath, chest discomfort, and nausea.

And although it’s the most common type of heart disease and the leading cause of death, 80 percent of premature heart attacks and strokes are preventable.

Protecting Your Aging Heart

Just as the rest of your body changes with age, so does your cardiovascular system. Even a healthy heart begins to show signs of aging over time. Cardiovascular changes with aging include a slower heart rate, stiffening and thickening of heart valves, thickening of capillary walls, less flexibility of the aorta, and the heart filling slowly.

When you combine risk factors such as high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, and smoking on top of an aging cardiovascular system, you’re simply increasing your risk for heart failure.

We can’t prevent getting older, but we can lower our risk by:

  • Eating a heart-healthy diet – you should limit your saturated and trans-fat as well as your salt intake. Eating too much fat, often found in red meat, dairy products, fried food, and baked goods, can raise the LDL “bad” cholesterol in your blood. High levels of salt cause your body to retain water, which can lead to high blood pressure. Fluid retention strains your blood vessels and damages your heart and kidneys. Eat a diet full of healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, and foods high in fiber.
  • Being physically active – There are a number of reasons why you should exercise, but senior heart health is definitely a top reason. Being physically active helps to not only maintain a healthy weight, control your blood sugar and reduce stress, but it also helps to strengthen your heart. Getting your heart rate up during exercise helps to build cardiovascular fitness and strengthen your heart muscles.  
  • Stop smoking – Smoking and tobacco use causes a buildup of plaque in your blood vessels. And in addition, the chemicals in cigarette smoke cause the blood to thicken and form clots which lead to major cardiovascular complications. It doesn’t matter if you’ve smoked your entire life, quitting, even later in life, can lower your risk of heart disease. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death.

A Link Between Your Heart and Oral Health

Many people are unaware that your teeth and oral health affect a lot more than just your smile and appearance. Studies have shown a link between poor oral health and heart disease. So, when it comes to preventing heart disease, it’s important to:

  • Practice good dental hygiene –Periodontal disease, such as gum disease, increases your risk of developing a bacterial infection that can enter your bloodstream and cause clots and damage your heart valves. Brushing your teeth twice a day, flossing regularly, and having routine dental cleanings can help prevent heart disease. 
Senior man having his blood pressure checked by a physician to monitor risk factors for heart disease

Control Your Cardiovascular Risk

Along with living a healthy lifestyle and practicing good oral hygiene, managing health conditions that could put you at risk for heart disease is vital. You should stay up to date with all doctor’s appointments, physicals, and any other routine health assessments advised by your physician.

  • Check your blood pressure – Heart attacks and strokes can happen suddenly without warning. High blood pressure is usually a culprit. There are not always symptoms directly associated with high blood pressure that would alert you that you may be at risk of experiencing a cardiovascular episode. That’s why it’s important that you routinely check your blood pressure and know your numbers. If it’s high, you can adjust your lifestyle and take control to lessen this risk factor.
  • Know your blood lipids – We know that high cholesterol is an indicator of heart disease, so by knowing your blood lipid levels, you can take action if needed. Blood cholesterol needs to be controlled through a healthy diet. Sometimes, medication may even need to be prescribed for assistance. With age, lifestyle changes, stress, and certain illnesses, your cholesterol can become elevated. You will want to be sure to have your cholesterol checked and monitored to be safe.
  • Control your blood sugar – People with diabetes are at an increased risk for heart disease. Over time, high blood sugar levels can cause damage to the blood vessels in your heart. This, in turn, puts you at an increased risk of developing fatty deposits, which leads to blockages. High blood glucose can also damage the nerves that control your heart. If you have diabetes, you need to be diligent at managing your condition. If not, you simply need to monitor your glucose levels during your routine physician visits to be safe.

Keep Your Heart Healthy With Prevention

Bottom line, it doesn’t matter if you’re 25 or 65, lifestyle habits play a significant role in determining your risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Sure, your increasing age raises your risk, but you can take steps to keep your heart healthy and ticking with each coming year. Focus on the factors you can control. Schedule an appointment with a VIPcare primary care physician today to discuss your heart health. Prevention is the key to living a healthy and happy life.

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