Welcome to our second blog in our Healthy Aging series! In our previous blog, we discussed what it means to age normally and how to take care of your body as you enter into your golden years. In this post, we will take a closer look at heart health as you age.
Research has shown that the risk of developing heart disease increases with age.  But what does this mean? And what can we do about it? Courtney Foulk, MSN, NP is a Cardiology Nurse Practitioner with a wealth of knowledge on this topic. We sat down and asked her a few questions. Here is what she told us.
What happens to the heart as it ages?
There are many changes that occur over time to the heart and circulatory system. Many people will develop hypertension as the walls of the arteries begin stiffening as we age. The walls of the heart also begin to thicken. This leads to impaired relaxation of the heart muscle and decreased space for blood in the heart. There can also be disruption of the heart’s electrical system which results in abnormal heartbeats and/or rhythms.
What are the signs of heart disease?
Sometimes heart disease can be mistaken for many other diseases or normal aging. This is why it is important to see your primary care provider for a regular check-up. Signs of heart disease can include chest discomfort or pain, shortness of breath, increased fatigue, and weight gain. Other symptoms include swelling of the extremities and abdomen, lightheadedness, passing out, and palpitations.
What questions should I ask my doctor if I am concerned about my heart health?
I always encourage patients to ask as many questions as you can think of. However, it can be very difficult to know what to ask. If you have been told you are showing signs of heart disease, ask your medical provider what further testing needs to be done. They can tell you what other issues you should be monitoring for and help you slow the progression of the disease.
So, what can you do to take care of your heart now and in the future? Here are some of the steps Courtney recommends we all take to protect these blood-pumping machines:
- Eat a well-balanced, heart-healthy diet.
A heart-healthy diet is low in saturated and trans fats, high in fiber, and contains very few sources of sodium.  Thankfully, the foods you eat to care for your heart are also important foods to promote overall health and reduce your risk of disease in general. These foods include whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean meats like chicken and fish. You can find ideas for recipes like Sheet Pan Chicken and Vegetables or Black Bean and Sweet Potato Veggie Burgers on our recipe page!
For more guidance on how to follow a heart-healthy diet, see our blog on 10 Food Substitutions to Take Care of Your Heart. You may also find our blog on hypertension helpful, as well.
- Get regular aerobic exercise.
Courtney says, “Any type of physical activity is good activity! However, for cardiovascular health, I suggest regularly raising your heart rate with activities such as walking, bicycling, running, rowing or swimming. It is important to discuss physical activity with your doctor before starting something new.” For general recommendations on physical activity for those 65 and above, see our previous blog post on healthy aging!
- Lastly, it is important to be regularly screened for cardiovascular risk factors.
This is especially important if you have a family history of any type of heart disease. Our genetics still affect the diseases we are at a risk of developing.
Lifestyle choices have an impact! Follow diet and physical activity recommendations and seek guidance when needed. We can do our part to prevent disease and take care of our hearts for the future.
Written by Darci Bell, RDN, LD | Edited by Laurel Sanville, MS, RDN, LD