Heart disease ranks as the No. 1 cause of death in the United States. The statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are grim: Every 40 seconds, someone in America suffers a heart attack; every 34 seconds, someone succumbs to cardiovascular disease. In 2020, 697,000 people in the United States died due to heart conditions, accounting for one in every five deaths. It’s a staggering cost in human life, but as the medical team at North Carolina-based home health provider HealthKeeperz points out, heart disease is also a huge drain on our economic resources.
According to the CDC, “Heart disease cost the United States about $229 billion annually from 2017 to 2018. This includes the cost of health care services, medicines, and lost productivity due to death.” Doctors, nurses, and other care providers spend countless hours combating this insidious health threat in what often feels like a losing battle.
Ironically, while some cardiovascular conditions are congenital or otherwise naturally occurring, the nurses and trained medical staff at HealthKeeperz assert that the majority of these crippling illnesses result from questionable lifestyle choices and unhealthy long-term habits, including improper diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption. They maintain that with proper choices, heart disease and many of the health conditions which often precede or accompany it — such as high blood pressure, elevated LDL (sometimes known as “bad” cholesterol) levels, diabetes, and obesity — would often be preventable.
As we get older, the likelihood of developing heart disease increases. According to the National Institute on Aging, “Adults age 65 and older are more likely than younger people to suffer from cardiovascular disease … Aging can cause heart and blood vessel changes that may increase a person’s risk of developing cardiovascular disease.” That’s why it’s so important to begin implementing healthy lifestyle changes early. The care professionals at HealthKeeperz have some helpful tips to help get you — and keep you — on the road to a more heart-healthy lifestyle.
Age 40 And Up? Stick With Exercise by Staying Connected and Starting Slow
Everyone and their granny knows that physical exercise is good for you — but sticking to a regular routine can be challenging. For those who’ve fallen out of the habit of regular exercise or found themselves increasingly sedentary due to isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic, getting back on track can be daunting, especially for those age 40 and above. But if you think 40 is too late to get started on better heart-healthy habits, HealthKeeperz has good news.
The results of a cardiology investigation by Pedro F. Saint-Maurice, Ph.D.;, Diarmuid Coughlan, Ph.D., and Scott P. Kelly, Ph.D., published in the March 2019 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association, revealed: “Being inactive but increasing physical activity during midlife was associated with 32%-35% lower risk for mortality.” Better still, the study revealed that those adults who’d been previously inactive but started and maintained healthy exercise regimens between the ages of 40 and 61 enjoyed comparable cardiovascular health benefits to study participants who’d been working out all along.
According to experts, one of the biggest roadblocks to exercise success in midlife is a mindset in which the tasks of daily health routines have become disconnected from understanding their long-term benefits. Motivation and commitment can fall by the wayside when you lose sight of the “why” of it.
Louis Bezich, author of Crack the Code: 10 Proven Secrets that Motivate Healthy Behavior and Inspire Fulfillment in Men Over 50, said in a March 15, 2019, Healthline feature, “[Building] a motivational platform anchored by the most valued relationships in your life like your spouse, partner, children, grandchildren, or career” was the surest path to getting in shape. “These relationships define your personal ‘why’ when it comes to the effort and sacrifices of living healthy.”
HealthKeeperz cautions that to get the most effective results and avoid negative health complications, it’s always best to consult with your doctor before embarking on any new diet or exercise routine. When you do begin working out, their advice is usually to take things slowly and ease back into a routine that includes moderate aerobic activity for half an hour every day, muscle-strengthening exercises that target the major muscle groups three times a week, and to lessen the chance of falls and injuries, balance exercises at least twice a week.
Forget Diets and Concentrate on Healthy Eating
When most people hear the word “diet,” they associate it with a restrictive eating plan designed for one purpose: weight loss. Reaching an ideal weight and body mass index (the measure of body fat based on a person’s height and weight) are worthy goals in the quest for cardiac health and long-term fitness. However, many popular diets aren’t meant to be sustained over the long term, and some can be detrimental.
Rather than focus on accelerated short-term weight loss, folks in their middle years and beyond are much better off making changes to their dietary routines based on better food choices and healthier eating habits. If you’re having trouble getting started or staying motivated, HealthKeeperz recommends seeking professional counseling to help you keep on course. Also, since not every eating plan works for every person, consulting with a nutritionist is another smart way to ensure you’re doing everything possible to achieve your healthy eating goals.
Finally, as we age, many of us experience a diminished sense of smell. Since our sense of taste is directly related to the sense of smell, we may no longer enjoy many of the foods — even healthy ones — we once loved.
Adding brightly hued foods to our daily menus can be beneficial for several reasons. First, many of the most colorful unprocessed foods are high in phytonutrients, naturally occurring compounds found in fruits and vegetables can do the trick. Putting colorful foods on the plate is a good prescription for you physically, but also, as the nurses at HealthKeeperz have observed, since humans eat with our eyes first, providing visual stimuli to seniors whose taste buds aren’t what they used to be may actually encourage them to eat more nutritious meals. Less colorful but just as nutrient dense are whole grains, legumes — and, yes, even dark chocolate — that have been shown to promote numerous benefits, including heart health.
Routine Heart Checkups Do Matter After 40
By the time we reach our 40s, many of us lose sight of our heart health as other immediate conditions make themselves felt. “Often when we see our physician, the conversation can be dominated by a checklist of other concerns, such as hair loss, weight gain, or a nagging ache,” wrote Dr. M. Wesley Milks for a July 14, 2021, article in Ohio State Health & Discovery. “The topic of heart health gets pushed to the bottom of the list.”
However, Milks, a cardiologist, asserts that a discussion regarding heart health is something we should all prioritize with our doctors. “Let your physician know that you’d like to devote five minutes to discussing your risk,” he advised. “It’s a good conversation to have and age 40 is the perfect time to start having it.”
Getting the Rest Your Body Needs for Optimal Health
Poor sleep can profoundly impact myriad health issues, from Type 2 diabetes and obesity to a weakened immune system, depression, and loss of libido. It can also wreak havoc on the cardiovascular system. “Insomnia is linked to high blood pressure and heart disease,” the CDC reported. “Over time, poor sleep can also lead to unhealthy habits that can hurt your heart, including higher stress levels, less motivation to be physically active, and unhealthy food choices.”
Meanwhile, per MedlinePlus, an online resource from the National Library of Medicine: “Most people find that aging causes them to have a harder time falling asleep. They wake up more often during the night and earlier in the morning.” While the total amount of sleep time we get as we age may not change significantly, the quality of sleep can prove less restful. “It may be harder to fall asleep, and you may spend more total time in bed. The transition between sleep and waking up is often abrupt, which makes older people feel like they are a lighter sleeper than when they were younger.”
Fortunately, there are things you can do to help you get a better night’s sleep. Andrew D. Huberman, Ph.D., a neuroscientist and tenured associate professor in the department of neurobiology and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine, has developed a Toolkit for Sleep protocol that recommends a combination of sunlight therapy with regular sleep and wake schedule.
He also suggests refraining from caffeine intake eight to 10 hours before bedtime and avoiding bright artificial lights between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. For those so inclined, taking natural theanine or magnesium supplements half an hour to an hour prior to bedtime may help some people fall asleep more easily. For those who do wake up and can’t fall back asleep, Huberman recommends trying deep relaxation techniques such as yoga nidra or “Non-Sleep Deep Rest” to help the body cope with a lack of sleep.
The Healthy Mind, Healthy Heart Care Connection
Nurses and senior care experts at HealthKeeperz warn that persistent lack of sleep in elderly patients may signal depression. If you or a loved one simply can’t get the rest you need, it may be time to consult a mental health provider to explore further options. However, insomnia is just one symptom of mental disturbances in elderly patients.
If left untreated, depression and other psychological conditions can have a profoundly detrimental impact on physical health.
“People experiencing depression, anxiety, stress, and even PTSD over a long period of time may experience certain physiologic effects on the body, such as increased cardiac reactivity (e.g., increased heart rate and blood pressure), reduced blood flow to the heart, and heightened levels of cortisol,” the CDC reported. “Over time, these physiologic effects can lead to calcium buildup in the arteries, metabolic disease, and heart disease.”
Feelings of loneliness or isolation commonly associated with elderly patients can exacerbate symptoms of depression. That’s why the nurses at HealthKeeperz believe fostering a sense of community for seniors and their families is so important. Experience has shown that keeping seniors feeling connected in the comfort and security of a home care setting means they’re less likely to experience the kinds of emotional distress that can potentially lead to poor outcomes.