The Bristal Assisted Living Blog

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Celebrate American Heart Month With These Heart-Healthy Tips

February is American Heart Month, highlighting an issue of special concern to many older adults. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease is an umbrella term referring to several different heart conditions.

What causes heart disease, and how can you reduce your risk? Read on to learn more.

What is Heart Disease?

Heart disease and related health problems can be caused by arteriosclerosis, a hardening of the arteries. Arteriosclerosis causes a buildup of plaque in the arteries around the heart – resulting in reduced blood flow. Heart disease can lead to heart attacks, as well as pulmonary issues.

As we age, heart and blood vessel changes make us more susceptible to heart disease. For example, blood vessels may stiffen, heart valves may begin to fail, and sections of the heart wall may grow thicker.

Heart-Healthy Tips for Seniors

Fortunately, you can significantly reduce your risk of heart disease by making certain lifestyle changes. Here are some heart-healthy tips to consider.

Heart Health After 60

  • Quit Smoking. According to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke raises your blood pressure and heart rate. This displaces some of the oxygen in your blood, which forces the heart to work harder to supply enough oxygen throughout the body. 

Even if you’ve smoked for years, the National Institute on Aging says it’s never too late to quit. There are both immediate and long-term health benefits to doing so — in your 60s, 70s, and beyond.

  • Eat a Nutritious Diet. “Healthy eating is one of the most effective ways to promote good heart health,” says Alaina Hoschke, Registered Dietitian at The Bristal. “Be conscious of your choices when you’re hungry, and make smart swaps to boost the nutrition of your meals and snacks.” 

        Follow these tips for a heart-healthy snack or meal:

    • Choose low-salt foods and those with healthy fats, avoiding saturated and trans fats.
    • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables (they contain heart-healthy nutrients), with a goal of five to 10 servings per day.
    • Select foods high in fiber, such as beans, lentils, and nuts.
    • Opt for whole grains, like brown rice and whole-wheat bread, over white grains.

“Incorporating heart-healthy foods into our menus is a key part of our focus here at The Bristal communities,” says Hoschke. “We partner with local farmers and providers to ensure we include fresh and in-season ingredients.”

Learn more about dining experiences at The Bristal >>

A recent large-scale study examining dietary habits showed that incorporating foods from four healthy eating patterns may significantly (20%) lower your risk of early death from major diseases, including cardiovascular disease. Results from the study should encourage those who might feel restricted by following a diet – especially over a long period of time. 

While the eating patterns in the study differ, they all focus on consuming more whole grains, nuts, legumes, and fresh fruits and vegetables. 

The Mediterranean diet can be good for your heart — learn more here >>

  • Move More. Discuss with your primary care provider what type of exercise is the most appropriate for you. Aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-level activity on most or all days of the week, even if you break the exercise into 10-minute periods with rest in between. The activities may include things like walking, swimming, or gardening.
Check out the following walking tips for seniors >>
  • Reduce Alcohol Intake. Excess alcohol consumption can worsen the conditions that contribute to heart disease, such as high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and high cholesterol.

  • Decrease Stress. Stress can compound many heart disease risks that some seniors already face. Find healthy outlets to relieve stress, such as meditation or social activities.
While family history and other factors may increase your risk of heart disease, leading a heart-healthy lifestyle may help you prevent or lessen the severity of heart-related illnesses. Consult your cardiologist for the preventative measures and, perhaps, medications that are right for you.

Senior man gets his heart checked at doctor

Signs of Heart Disease

It’s essential to get regular checkups so your doctor can help you identify any issues, as you might not notice the signs of early heart disease.

As the disease progresses, symptoms might include:

  • Shortness of breath in certain positions or during certain activities
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Tiredness or fatigue

Tell your doctor right away if you experience chest pain, pressure, or discomfort, which can be signs of a heart attack. Keep in mind that chest pain might not be a common symptom of heart disease as we age.

Be aware of other signs, including pain in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back; confusion; headaches; cold sweats; fatigue; or swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach, or neck. It is also important to remember that signs of a heart attack typically differ between men and women.

More About American Heart Month

American Heart Month was established in 1963 by President Lyndon B. Johnson after he suffered a heart attack. The first American Heart Month took place the following February in 1964 and has been celebrated every year since.

Multiple organizations, including the American Heart Association, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, work to raise awareness about heart disease and promote a healthy lifestyle for people of all ages.

You can find more information on getting involved, as well as tips, heart information, and healthy lifestyle ideas, on the NHLBI website.

Find More Health and Wellness Tips

Get tips to help you or a senior loved one live a healthy lifestyle. Peruse our blog for stories on exercise and fitness, nutrition, emotional health, and more.Read the Blog

This blog was originally published in November 2018. It was updated in January 2024.


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