Stay Heart-Healthy During American Heart Month

Megan Ray  |  February 3, 2015

Every February, people across the country, both old and young, place a special emphasis on hearts. But this month, you should be paying attention to more than those pink, red and made of candy. In addition to the month of love, it's also American Heart Month.

If you want to give your heart to someone special, it's important to first make sure that it's taken care of. Heart health is important for everyone, seniors and caregivers alike. Whether you're living with cardiovascular disease, taking care of someone who is or simply want to keep your ticker running smoothly, here are some tips to keep in mind this month.

Understand the risks
Heart disease is not only dangerous, it's more common than you might think. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that around 600,000 deaths in the U.S. every year are related to the condition - that's one-fourth of deaths annually. This makes it the No. 1 most fatal condition in the U.S. for both men and women. While not every instance can lead to a heart attack, this condition is a common and dangerous result of poor health during which the heart isn't able to receive oxygenated blood. Not only is a heart attack dangerous, it can also lead to other serious issues like stroke.

Staying healthy is the best way
While heart disease can be treated, it's far more advisable to encourage a preventive take on cardiovascular health. The principal thing seniors can do to reduce their risk is to cut out as many external risk factors as they can. While age and genetics can play inevitable factors, certain lifestyle choices can significantly increase the risk of heart disease in older adults. Some of the biggest contributors to poor health are smoking, obesity and diabetes. These factors can in turn be influenced by other more basic lifestyle habits, so taking a preventive stance may involve sitting down with your senior loved one and discussing what steps can be actively taken to stay healthy.

Talk to doctors regularly
Doctors and other healthcare professionals are essential to long-term heart health. The Senior List recommends getting check-ups on a yearly basis. Seniors who have a number of risk factors may want to see their doctors twice a year. These appointments are great opportunities not only for doctors to check the health of the senior's heart, but also to confirm if any less noticeable risk factors have arisen - for example, diabetes, high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Encourage exercise
An active lifestyle can help keep seniors in in tip-top shape. Just like any other muscle in the body, the heart needs to be worked out in order to remain strong. Everyday Health recommends that seniors get around 30 minutes of exercise a day, as many days of the week as they are able. The best types of activities are cardiovascular workouts - like swimming, running, biking or even walking around the retirement community. These exercises increase one's heart rate and encourage it to pump more blood. Just like lifting weights tones muscles, cardiovascular exercise can make this muscle more efficient.

Eat right
You've probably heard that an apple a day keeps the doctor away - well it's true! It's crucial that seniors eat a balanced diet. This means one that is low in cholesterol, fat and sodium - all of which can increase cholesterol levels and make it harder for the heart to do its job. Instead, you'll want to focus on fruits and vegetables, which contain essential vitamins. Fats ingested should be of the "good" variety - like omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in fish and certain kinds of nuts.

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