Generally, when we think of February, Valentine’s Day and love is the first thing that comes to mind.  However, health wise the month of February is American Heart Month. This awareness month was established by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to educate the public about heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association (AHA) promotes healthier lives during the month of February is the perfect time to learn more about your heart, how to take care of it, and how to detect signals of cardiovascular disease. And there are ways that seniors and our elderly adults can fully embrace heart health.

In honor of American Heart Month, we will look at some of the ways you can help improve your heart health. Even if you’re currently living with heart disease, there are many things you can do to improve your odds of living a long and healthful life.

What Is Heart Disease?

The phrases “heart disease” and “cardiovascular disease” are used interchangeably to describe the various conditions that affect your heart. Heart or cardiovascular diseases include blood vessel diseases, heart rhythm problems, and congenital heart defects.
The most common form of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease (CAD), which occurs when the arteries that supply blood to the heart become hardened and narrowed due to a buildup of cholesterol, known as plaque. CAD can lead to health issues such as heart attack, heart failure, angina (chest pain), stroke, and irregular heartbeat.

Facts About Heart Disease

Every year, one in four people will die from heart disease. Heart disease can strike anyone, but certain individuals may be more at risk than others. Some of the most common risk factors for heart disease include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Poor diet
  • Inactive lifestyle
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Excessive alcohol consumption

Heart disease is still the main source of death in the United States. In fact, cardiovascular disease remains the leading cause of death in the world. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many of these deaths would have been preventable with proper preventative care.

Many people believe that cardiovascular diseases (CVD) inevitably come with old age, there are many things that seniors can do to strengthen their heart and circulatory system.

Knowing The Symptoms of Heart Disease

While there are several different forms of heart disease, they share common symptoms and warning signs. It’s important to learn these symptoms to receive a prompt diagnosis and medical treatment. Symptoms of an emergency may include:

  • Chest pain, discomfort or an uncomfortable pressure in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain in the upper body, arms, back, neck, jaw or upper stomach
  • Feeling nauseous or vomiting
  • Sweating; or cold sweats
  • Weakness, light-headedness, feeling faint or dizzy
  • Feeling very full or having indigestion
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • An irregular heartbeat, palpitations, or increased heart rate

How You Can Help to Prevent Heart Disease

Risk factors often develop as you age; things such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol increase your chances of having a stroke or developing heart disease. Whether your senior loved ones live at home, in an assisted living community or at a nursing home, you can make healthy changes to lower the risk of developing heart disease. Likewise, controlling and preventing risk factors are that much more important if you already suffer from heart disease.

Luckily, there are many ways to keep your heart in great shape, even as you age. Although statistics show that heart disease risks increase with age, with correct, healthy lifestyle habits and a heart-healthy diet, you can help protect your senior loved ones.

Heart-Healthy Habits for Seniors

The American Heart Association provides Heart Healthy Tips for Seniors for improving your heart health. It’s possible to reduce the risk for heart disease by making certain lifestyle changes and managing medical conditions sooner rather than later.
You can keep your heart healthy no matter how old you are, by making changes in your everyday habits. Here’s how to get started:

  • Get enough exercise. Physical activity is one of the best ways to improve heart health. The American Heart Association recommends that individuals perform at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise.
  • Quit smoking. If you’re still smoking, it’s time to quit. There are many benefits to living a smoke-free life including improved circulation, reduced risk of certain types of cancer, and feeling more energetic.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. Load up on fresh fruits and vegetables while limiting saturated fats, salt, and foods containing cholesterol, like fatty meats. A Mediterranean diet focuses on eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fish and seafood instead of red and processed meats.
  • Watch your numbers. Get regular check-ups to monitor health conditions that affect the heart, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, and make sure they’re under control with medication.
  • Reduce your alcohol intake. Excess alcohol consumption can worsen health conditions that contribute to heart disease, such as high blood pressure, arrhythmias, and high cholesterol levels.
  • Watch your weight. To help prevent heart disease, maintain a healthy body weight for your size. Too many pounds can add up to increased heart disease risk.
  • Get better sleep. It’s critical for seniors (and everyone) to have a good night’s sleep. Most experts say that seniors should sleep between seven and nine hours each night. Sleep is beneficial for brain functionality, metabolism, immune functionality and emotional well-being.
  • Reduce stress factors. According to studies, stress can compound many heart disease risks that older adults already face, like high blood pressure. Take the time to find healthy outlets to relieve stress and lower your risk of heart disease.

How To Reduce Your Heart Disease Risks

Many health conditions can contribute to heart disease and increase your risk of having a heart attack. Heart disease treatment and heart attack prevention requires that you treat all other contributing health problems and keep them under control. To treat heart disease, you should:

  1. Lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.
  2. Keep diabetes under control.
  3. Take prescribed medications that can help treat the various aspects of heart disease; nitrates, beta-blockers, and calcium channel blockers may be recommended. Your doctor may also suggest taking a daily aspirin to help reduce the risk of a heart attack.
  4. If your aging parent or loved one is struggling to maintain their day-to-day activities and lifestyle, you may require help from a caregiver. Caregivers can provide care on an as needed basis and will also help encourage as much independence and activity (in or out of the home) as possible.

With increased awareness, education and lifestyle changes, we can help more Americans live longer, fuller, healthier lives and be an advocate for healthy habits.

American Heart Month should be used as a reminder to take care of your body and your health as you age, to reduce your risk of developing heart disease and other health conditions. It’s never too late to start living a healthy lifestyle and reducing your heart disease risks!

February and resources for millions of people for a common goal: to eradicate heart disease and stroke.