While no one wants to think about a heart attack or stroke, the truth is that heart disease remains the leading cause of death for American adults, especially over age 65. And experts say the impact of COVID-19 will continue to affect American heart health. This October, during National Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month, join us as we review important tips for helping prevent heart problems to stay proactive about your health. Please note, this blog post is for educational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please speak to your health professional.
Know Your Numbers
Blood pressure and blood cholesterol are levels you’ll want to keep an eye on as you age. Talk to your doctor for specific recommendations, since these are based on your age, family history and other factors. It’s important to understand what levels to maintain, and here’s why:
High blood pressure is one of the main risk factors for cardiovascular disease, though it often has no symptoms. Typically, a level of 130/80 or higher is an indication of high blood pressure. And while there is “good” cholesterol your body needs, or high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, the “bad” kind, or low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, causes plaque to build up in your blood vessels. High cholesterol can lead to a heart attack or stroke, or other problems. Your provider should order a blood test that will check your levels of “good” and “bad” cholesterol, as well as your total cholesterol. What numbers indicate healthy cholesterol levels for you will vary by your age and sex.
Control Your Risk for Heart Disease
It may surprise you to know that a heart attack and cardiac arrest are not the same thing. While a heart attack stops the flow of blood to the heart, a sudden cardiac arrest happens when the heart stops beating. And despite what we’ve always been taught about our health and genetics, there are many factors that contribute to heart disease. Genetics can put you at higher risk, especially as you age, so it’s important to know your family history. Be sure to tell your doctor if close relatives (especially parents) have had heart attacks, high blood pressure, and/or high cholesterol. But it’s just as important to know that lowering your risk is not completely out of your control. In fact, studies show that your lifestyle choices could be even more important than genetics. Here are some important steps to take now that can significantly lower your risk for heart disease:
- Increase your physical activity. Don’t worry, you don’t have to buy an expensive gym membership to get in shape; here are some exercises for seniors that you can do anywhere.
- Decrease sodium, saturated fats, and high-calorie meals. Eating healthy is proven to reduce your risk of heart problems, from reducing cholesterol levels to lowering your blood pressure.
- Quit smoking. Even if you’ve smoked for years, quitting now can begin to improve your health immediately. Also avoid secondhand smoke, even if you don’t smoke.
- Drink alcohol in moderation. The overconsumption of alcohol can affect the heart muscle and blood vessels, and may dull the symptomatic pain of a heart attack, as well as damage other organs.
Spot Symptoms Early
Chest pain is a common symptom of a heart attack, but it’s not the only one. Knowing what signs to look for when it comes to heart problems can save time in alerting a medical professional in case of emergency. Common symptoms that indicate you should talk to your doctor include:
- Fainting or extreme weakness
- Having severe shortness of breath or shortness of breath that comes on suddenly
- Coughing up pink, foamy mucus
- Experiencing an irregular heartbeat that’s new (or associated with other symptoms above)
These symptoms are also important to note if you know you have heart failure; even if symptoms aren’t new but are getting worse, this can indicate a worsening condition. Talk to your doctor if you’re unsure.
Monitor Your Heart from Home
An abnormal heart rhythm (either too fast or too slow) isn’t necessarily indicative of heart problems. But for people at risk of ventricular fibrillation (the most serious type of abnormal heart rhythm) may seek to have a defibrillator implanted in their chest. It will deliver a shock to the heart if a dangerous abnormal rhythm is detected.
If someone you know has severe heart problems or has had a sudden cardiac arrest scare, you may consider keeping an automated external defibrillator (AED) at home or in your car. Like the implanted defibrillator, the AED will also deliver a shock to the heart, if needed. If their heart suddenly stops beating, an AED can save their life. Talk to your doctor about whether having an AED is right for you; it’s important to learn how to use it and maintain it properly. And even if you do have an automated external defibrillator, you should always call 911 in an emergency.
Make a Plan to Keep Your Heart Healthy
There’s so much you can do to lower your risk for heart disease, so why not get started now? Start off National Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month by checking out our blog post for more heart-healthy tips. We can’t wait to show you how our maintenance-free lifestyle makes it easy for older adults to keep their hearts healthy and happy!
This article serves for educational purposes only and does not serve as medical advice. If you have any questions about your health, please speak to your health professional.