How does the heart work?
Your heart acts as a pump that sends blood and oxygen around your body. The heart has four parts called “chambers” – two atria and two ventricles. The right side of the heart sends oxygen-depleted blood to the lungs for replenishment, while the left side receives freshly oxygenated blood funneling it through arteries around your body. By using electrical impulses, your nervous system regulates your heartbeat, ensuring that both the top and bottom chambers contract at a synchronized pace. This happens over and over without you having to do anything!
How does the heart change as you age?
A natural part of aging is experiencing changes in how our hearts and blood vessels work. Some of these include:
- Decrease in heart rate during physical activity: The maximum heart rate during physical activity decreases with age. This event is due to the heart muscle being unable to contract as forcefully or efficiently as it did in younger years.
- Stiffening of blood vessels: The walls of the blood vessels may become thicker and less flexible with age. This can reduce blood flow and put additional stress on the heart.
- Increase in blood pressure: Stiffening of the blood vessels and an increase in plaque buildup can cause blood pressure to increase with age. High blood pressure can lead to several health problems, such as stroke and heart attack.
- Changes in cholesterol levels: With age, cholesterol levels tend to increase, especially the “bad” LDL cholesterol. High cholesterol levels which can also lead to plaque buildup in the blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease.
It is important to note that these changes are normal parts of the aging process and may not indicate underlying heart problems. However, monitoring heart health regularly is crucial to detecting potential issues early and preventing heart diseases from developing.
For those aged 65 years and older, the risk of having a heart attack or stroke, or developing coronary heart disease and heart failure, is substantially higher than it is for younger generations. Heart diseases can be debilitating, impeding the activities and quality of life of millions of people in this age group.
What can you do to improve your heart health?
Caring about our heart health as we grow older isn’t only necessary for ourselves but also crucial for our families who rely on us daily. You can take several simple and effective measures to maintain or improve your cardiovascular health. Staying heart-smart both now and in the years to come includes changes from incorporating regular exercise into your routine to watching what you eat. Here are five ways to keep your heart healthy and strong.
1. Eat a balanced diet that includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
Eating a balanced and nutritious diet is one of the best things you can do for heart health. Fruits and vegetables provide vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants essential for healthy cell production. Whole grains contain dietary fiber, which helps to clear cholesterol from your arteries. Lean proteins give your body the amino acids it needs to create healthy muscle tissue around the heart. Healthy fats like those found in olive oil and avocado help to reduce inflammation throughout your body. Take an active role in what you eat to keep your heart healthy over time.
2. Exercise regularly – even something as simple as walking can be beneficial.
One of the most important things that you can do to keep your heart healthy is to exercise regularly. According to the CDC, regular physical activity can help prevent or delay many age-related health problems. It can also help your muscles grow stronger which will help your ability to perform day-to-day activities without being dependent on others.
If you haven’t done so already, make sure to consult with your doctor before starting a new exercise regimen. Coordinating with your physician beforehand can help you plan an exercise program that’s just right for you.
If you are an adult aged 65 or older, the CDC recommends:
• Activities that are designed to improve balance such as standing on one foot about 3 times a week.
• At least 2 days a week of activities that strengthen muscles.
• At least 30 minutes of moderate activity 5 days a week such as walking or light jogging.
Light activity can also be a leisurely walk around the neighborhood or some gentle stretching in your living room.
Exercise is also a great way to stay socially active. Getting together with friends or Companions, or gathering with a local walking club can combine exercise with laughs and conversation – an all-around win!
For more information about the activities mentioned such as walking, balancing, and flexibility, you can consult the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, published by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for some recommendations. A good place to start is to pick some activities that interest you and talk to your doctor about them.
Becoming more active can change your quality of life and it could make all the difference in keeping your heart healthy.
3. Get 7-8 hours of restful sleep per night.
Getting an adequate amount of sleep each night is paramount for heart health. If you ask, how much sleep do I need? The answer is, what qualifies as enough sleep will differ from person to person, 7 to 8 hours of restful sleep each night is the recommended amount for older adults. Though you might think that staying up late or cutting back on sleep won’t have much of an effect, studies show that reduced sleep can increase your risk of cardiovascular complications such as stroke and hypertension. Make sure you take time each day to get the rest that your body needs and deserves.
4. Reduce stress levels – find ways to relax, such as reading or walking in nature.
Reducing stress levels can have a positive impact on your heart health. Relaxation is important in managing stress, as it reduces heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels. It’s also beneficial to practice physical activities that are low-intensity and calming, like walking, chair yoga, or a mindfulness activity like meditation. Reading is also a relaxing activity that can give you meaningful moments to pause from the hustle and bustle of life. Nature walks guarantee a peaceful retreat surrounded by breathtaking landscapes that can reduce stress tremendously. All of these practices provide many valuable benefits for your cardiovascular system, mind, and well-being.
5. Check blood pressure regularly to identify any changes.
One way to ensure your heart is functioning properly is to check your blood pressure regularly. High blood pressure can indicate cardiovascular strain, which can increase your risk of heart attack or stroke. While leading a healthier lifestyle with a balanced diet and regular exercise can help prevent high blood pressure, monitoring your blood pressure is still important. Regular blood pressure checks make it easier to identify any changes and respond accordingly. You can speak with your doctor about the timeframe that works best for you.
You may have access to free tests at your local pharmacy or supermarket, and there are also home devices that allow you to check your blood pressure easily. Taking small steps toward bettering your overall heart health can make a huge difference in the long run – start monitoring that blood pressure today!
It’s never too late to start caring about your heart health.
Being a senior doesn’t mean your heart health has to suffer. By making small, healthy lifestyle changes like eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep, reducing stress levels, and checking blood pressure, you can take proactive steps to reduce the risk of heart disease. Managing these lifestyle factors is essential to staying healthy and enjoying your golden years. It’s never too late to start making these changes – what matters is that you take small but significant steps towards bettering your overall heart health today!
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National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute – The Heart
National Institute on Aging – Heart Health and Aging
National Institute on Aging – High Blood Pressure and Older Adults
National Institute on Aging – Exercise and physical activity
National Institute on Aging – Healthy eating, nutrition, and diet
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) – Stress
CDC – How much sleep do I need?
CVS – Blood Pressure Screening
MedlinePlus – Aging Changes in the Heart
CDC – How much physical activity do older adults need?
Health.Gov – Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans – PDF Document