As we age, our hearts undergo changes that can increase the risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular problems for seniors.
The good news? It’s never too late to help your senior parent strengthen their heart. There are several science-backed ways seniors can both prevent and reverse heart disease.
Here’s a look at how your heart changes with age, how to keep your cardiovascular system healthy, and some tips for diet and exercise to maintain senior heart health.
How does your heart change with age?
Aging causes changes to the heart and blood vessels. These changes make people over the age of 65 more likely than younger people to experience a heart attack, stroke, heart disease, or heart failure.
The most significant cause of these changes is the build-up of fatty deposits on the walls of the arteries, known as plaque. This substance hardens and can block blood vessels or break off and cause problems elsewhere in the body, such as the lungs or brain.
Another common age-related change to your cardiovascular system is arteriosclerosis. This is when your arteries grow stiffer and less flexible. This can lead to high blood pressure, which can cause health issues if not treated.
Other factors that can affect your heart as you age include:
Seniors can also experience age-related changes in the heart’s electrical system, which makes them more likely to have arrhythmias (changes in the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat).
The chambers of the heart may also thicken or increase in size with age. This means the heart can’t pump blood to the rest of the body as effectively as it used to.
These changes with age can all affect senior heart health and lead to various types of heart disease when not treated. Fortunately, there are ways to delay, lower, or possibly even avoid the risk of heart disease as you age.
How to keep your heart healthy as you age
The two best ways to keep your heart healthy as you age are to follow a heart-healthy diet and stay physically active. We’ll talk more about these later. Here are some other heart health tips for seniors:
Smoking damages the walls of your arteries. This can raise the risk of heart disease and heart attack. Encouraging your parent to quit, even if they’ve been smoking for a long time, can lower their risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Maintain a healthy weight
Having a higher level of body fat is associated with a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and breathing issues. Getting to a healthy body weight and maintaining it can help your parent improve their overall health.
Manage health conditions
Diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure are common with age and can affect senior heart health. If your parent has any of these conditions, encourage them to work with their healthcare provider to properly manage them.
Chronic high stress can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and chest pain (angina). If your parent is feeling stressed, encourage them to talk about their concerns with a trusted friend, healthcare provider, or therapist. They can also try relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga.
Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is key to senior heart health and brain function. Not getting enough sleep over time can raise your parent’s risk of high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. Help your parent improve their sleep by avoiding caffeine or nicotine before bedtime and practicing good sleep hygiene.
Monitor the numbers
Cholesterol levels and blood pressure readings are two factors that significantly affect senior heart health. Help your senior parent to know their numbers and keep them within target levels. They can do this by seeing a healthcare provider for regular appointments and following recommendations for diet, exercise, and medication.
Here are the recommended numbers for good heart health:
Blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg or lower
Fasting blood glucose (blood sugar) of 100 mg/dL or lower
Total cholesterol of 200 mg/dL or lower
LDL (bad) cholesterol of 100 mg/dL or lower
HDL (good) cholesterol of 40 mg/dL or higher for men, 50 mg/dL or higher for women
Triglycerides of 150 mg/dL or lower
What is a heart-healthy diet for seniors?
Foods that are moderate in calories but high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber are great for the heart. Some examples of heart-healthy foods for seniors include:
Lean proteins such as eggs, seafood, and poultry
Foods rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon or tuna
Beans and legumes
Some other tips for a heart-healthy diet for seniors:
Fill up on fiber: Fiber helps you feel fuller longer and can prevent weight gain. Studies show diets with an adequate amount of fiber can help lower the risk of heart disease.
Avoid processed foods: Packaged foods tend to be low in nutrients and high in calories, saturated fats, sodium, and added sugars.
Choose fats wisely: Picking unsaturated fats such as nuts and seeds, canola and olive oils, fatty fish, and avocado may help lower the risk of cholesterol and heart disease.
Avoid the salt shaker: Adults should have no more than 2,300 mg of sodium per day. Some adults with high blood pressure may want to limit sodium intake even further to 1,500 mg per day. To control salt intake, avoid processed foods and explore using other spices and condiments to flavor foods.
Drink plenty of water: Older adults often have a decreased sense of thirst which can lead to dehydration. Staying well-hydrated can keep the heart from working too hard.
Watch the alcohol intake: Alcohol raises blood pressure and triglyceride levels. They can also add unnecessary calories. If your parent chooses to drink, encourage them to practice moderation. Women should have no more than one drink per day. Men shouldn’t have more than two drinks each day.
What are some heart-healthy activities for seniors?
Regular exercise is one of the best ways for your senior parent to maintain a healthy heart. But before they begin, it’s a good idea for them to check in with a healthcare provider to make sure their routine is appropriate for their current health.
Exercise for seniors doesn’t have to mean running a marathon or lifting heavy at the gym. Light exercises adapted for seniors can be incredibly effective for keeping your heart healthy.
Moderate aerobic exercise will help your senior parent keep their heart and blood vessels healthy. Seniors should aim for 30 minutes per day of aerobic activities such as:
Another aerobic exercise that’s gaining popularity with seniors is pickleball. Pickleball is a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. The court is smaller than tennis, the play is a little bit slower, and the rules are simple. This makes it a great activity for players of all ages and abilities.
Resistance training exercises can help seniors build core muscle strength and improve balance for overall health. Common activities that can be adapted for seniors include:
Other activities, such as yoga or tai chi, can provide a light aerobic workout while helping your parent improve balance and flexibility.
How does Parentis Health support senior heart health?
At Parentis Health, we understand how important it is to support senior heart health. That’s why we offer a range of senior care services designed to help your parent maintain a healthy heart and promote overall well-being.
Our skilled health professionals are committed to meeting your parent’s unique needs, whether they need help with daily activities, medication management, or transportation to appointments.
If you’re looking for senior care services that prioritize health and wellness, contact us today to learn more about how we can support your parent’s heart health and help them live their best life.