You can always tell when it’s a month from Valentine’s Day; stores are screaming love and have filled entire aisles with merchandise from red decorations and heart-shaped boxes of delicious chocolates to mushy cards filled with sentimental poems…and hearts…hearts everywhere. All the red heart-shapes make it difficult not to think of your own heart and its impressive job of steadily keeping blood and oxygen pumping throughout your body.
This Valentine’s Day, why not take care of your heart? After all, statistics underscore the need for seniors to cut their risk of heart disease. An American Heart Association fact sheet for 2013 reported that more than 42 million Americans over the age of 60 have cardiovascular disease, and for those between the ages of 60 and 79, just over 70 percent have heart disease. But while these numbers are concerning, the problem is avoidable. With proper care and a focus on prevention, it is very possible to reduce your risk of heart disease.
Not smoking, regular exercise, a healthy diet, moderate alcohol consumption, and adequate sleep can significantly lower your risk by 65% and cut the risk of fatal events as much as 83%. That’s according to this article referring to a large study published in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology.
You probably know that smoking causes lung cancer; but it also increases your risk of having a heart attack. According to WebMD, roughly 1 in 5 deaths from cardiovascular disease is related to smoking. Even though the number of people who smoke continues to decline, from 42.5% in 1965 to 20.6% in 2009, over 400,000 people die from smoking or second-hand smoke every year.
Get Out, Get Moving
It should probably go without saying that one of the best ways to keep your heart healthy is to get regular exercise. Seniors should aim for 30 minutes of exercise every day, as advised by Everyday Health. Of course, if you have not exercised in some time or are unsure about which activity is best for you, consult with your doctor first.
Fortunately, the variety of activities and exercise is overwhelming—the key is simply finding the ones you actually enjoy, which will keep you motivated to stick with it. And hey, even seniors who are home-bound or disabled can still exercise; HelpGuide.org suggests lifting small weights, stretching and chair aerobics to boost your cardiovascular health.
Eat Heart-Healthy Meals
Another obvious way to love your heart is making sure you’re eating right. But instead of focusing on what you cannot or should not have, think about what you should be eating, and add plenty of fruits and veggies to your daily diet, as well as lean meats and high-fiber whole grains. Limit sodium intake as much as you can and keep it under 2,000mg a day. Be careful with hidden sodium, too; although bread is delicious, it can be surprisingly high in sodium. So at lunchtime, load up one slice of wheat bread with lean turkey and plenty of veggies.
Don’t Skip Dessert Or Red Wine
Yes, you read that correctly; it’s true, you don’t have to eliminate wine and chocolate from your life to be heart-healthy. On the contrary, both of these delicious treats give many health benefits, especially for the heart. The flavanol content in dark chocolate helps increase artery flexibility, which also prevents white blood cells from adhering to artery walls, according to Science Daily. A substance called resveratrol, naturally found in red wine, can help boost your levels of “good” cholesterol, notes Mayo Clinic, as well as protect the linings of your arteries.
Dark chocolate and red wine are on the good list (in moderation, of course), so treat yourself to a box of dark chocolate and a bottle of red wine this Valentine’s Day without worrying that your indulgence will be hanging around long after you finish the treats.
Get Your Beauty Sleep
While regularly getting 7-9 hours of good, restorative sleep is known to improve your overall appearance, energy, stamina, and sex drive; poor sleep has been associated with inflammation, obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, heart attack, and stroke. That’s why the CDC has labeled sleep deficiency “a public health epidemic.” After all, 60% of working adults say they don’t sleep well, 40% sleep less than the recommended 7-9 hours, and 30% sleep less than 6 hours. It’s even worse for adolescents since about 70% of them don’t sleep enough, and that affects their grades, what college they might get into, what their starting salary may be, and their lifetime earning capacity.
The size of America’s sleep problem, and its impact on the health, safety and performance of our nation at school, work and in sports, is why Modern Health Talk has taken such a strong position on sleep wellness. Here in Austin, we’re working closely with Intelligent Sleep and think it may have the best program in the country.