Mar 2, 2022 9:35:36 AM
Ramneek S. Bhogal, DC, DABCI
You may not realize it, but the health risks posed by cardiovascular problems in older adults are exceedingly high—between 600-800,000 deaths per year in the US occur as a consequence of poor heart health.
These staggering numbers suggest people often ignore the science-backed ways we all know to manage heart problems. While heart-healthy strategies are essential for people of all ages, they are especially fundamental for men and women over 50.
The risk and prevalence of cardiovascular problems continue to grow, but these issues don’t have to be an inevitable part of aging. In this article, we explore the following six heart health tips for older adults:
It’s helpful to begin with a solid understanding of why cardiovascular health tends to decline with age, as well as several key differences between men and women to be aware of. At the end of the day, though, most diet and lifestyle interventions that support heart health apply to everyone.
The increased prevalence of heart problems after 50 is linked to aging and lifestyle factors. After 50, people tend to be more accustomed to less healthy diet and lifestyle habits, becoming complacent about their health. Changing routines around alcohol, sugar, exercise, and smoking also gets harder as time goes on.
Generally speaking, older adults tend to move less, contributing to a loss of elasticity—in skin, collagen, and connective tissue-based structures, which leads to less flexible vessels and cholesterol depositions that can ultimately plaque and harden. Along with the intrinsic hardening of arteries with age, these factors can lead to blood pressure issues and poor blood flow.
While the vast majority of heart health tips are the same for men and women, a few biological and lifestyle differences are important to understand.
Men tend to experience cardiovascular problems earlier in life. They are also statistically more susceptible to perceiving their symptoms, meaning they are more likely to seek medical attention and recover more rapidly. On the flip side, men’s focus on dietary and lifestyle habits tends to be lower, and the male heart’s coronary arteries constrict more readily, making their hearts more vulnerable to stress.
Women are not exempt from plaque deposition, but their symptoms aren’t always perceived as quickly or felt as intensely. More women experience issues later in life, discomfort that usually manifests as fatigue or struggling with physical activity, rather than the typical sharp, obvious pain felt by men experience cardiac events. As a result, heart-related mortality is higher in women, and recovery can take longer.
By following these six tips, you can significantly support cardiovascular health as you age.
Studies show that regular exercise slows heart rate, stabilizes blood pressure, boosts mood, improves oxygen efficiency, and manages stress. The older the individual, the higher the risk of cardiovascular complications, and the easier it becomes to lose physical condition after a cardiac event. Preventing heart problems in the first place with exercise is critical.
The CDC recommends a minimum of 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, which breaks down to 22 minutes per day. For example, brisk walking, jogging, swimming, hiking, weight training, yoga, pilates, or dancing are excellent options. If you have grandchildren, find ways to stay healthy and active with your grandkids.
Stress management is perhaps the most crucial strategy for maintaining a healthy heart, as cortisol significantly impacts the body’s inflammatory response. When the body is under high levels of stress, we become more susceptible to plaquing. Contrary to the antiquated notion that arterial plaquing occurs from overeating dietary cholesterol, experts now know that plaquing is triggered by inflammation of the vessel walls. You can think of stress as the match that lights the fuse of cascading heart problems.
It’s always important to regularly check heart-related metrics like blood pressure, resting heart rate, BMI, triglycerides, and cholesterol. Remember that cholesterol isn’t just one number; it’s also vital to look at your LDL to HDL cholesterol ratio and LDL particle size. Not all conventional medical doctors consider these cholesterol numbers, so working with an integrative medical practitioner, such as a naturopath or MD with training in functional medicine, could be beneficial.
Focusing on foods goes a long way in keeping your heart healthy. Green and colorful vegetables like kale, Swiss chard, collard greens, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, and other nutrient-dense vegetables and fruits are key to a healthy heart. Heart-healthy fats like extra virgin olive oil, omega-3 fats from fatty fish, and avocado have also been shown to support cardiovascular health, along with adequate protein and moderate amounts of whole grains.
While including heart-supportive foods is a must, you must also avoid foods that harm cardiovascular health, such as highly processed foods containing refined flours and sugars and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated (trans) fats.
Especially critical for women who are more likely to ignore possible signs, it's crucial to seek medical attention for any unusual or worrisome sensations. These include chest pain, tightness or pressure, severe nausea, indigestion, heartburn, pain that radiates to the left arm, feeling lightheaded or dizzy, sudden exhaustion, suddenly breaking out into a cold sweat, an irregular heartbeat, or swollen legs, feet, and ankles.
Work with your provider to put together a heart-healthy supplement plan. Common supplements for cardiovascular wellbeing include omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium glycinate, and a methylated B complex.*
Thinking about the prevalence of heart-related problems over 50 can be scary, but it’s certainly not a life sentence. Several relatively simple diet and lifestyle modifications can set the stage for cardiovascular health as you age, creating a beneficial ripple effect for those you live with. Speak with your doctor today about individualized recommendations and supplements to ensure optimal heart health tomorrow.
 Maas, A. H., & Appelman, Y. E. (2010). Gender differences in coronary heart disease. Netherlands heart journal : monthly journal of the Netherlands Society of Cardiology and the Netherlands Heart Foundation, 18(12), 598–602. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12471-010-0841-y
 Nystoriak, M. A., & Bhatnagar, A. (2018). Cardiovascular Effects and Benefits of Exercise. Frontiers in cardiovascular medicine, 5, 135. https://doi.org/10.3389/fcvm.2018.00135
 Nocella C, Cammisotto V, Fianchini L, D'Amico A, Novo M, Castellani V, Stefanini L, Violi F, Carnevale R. Extra Virgin Olive Oil and Cardiovascular Diseases: Benefits for Human Health. Endocr Metab Immune Disord Drug Targets. 2018;18(1):4-13. doi: 10.2174/1871530317666171114121533. PMID: 29141571.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.
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