This month is RedFeb, an important initiative driven by Heart Research Australia to raise awareness and funds for heart health. According to the organisation, 80% of cases of premature heart disease and stroke are preventable through the adoption of healthy lifestyle behaviours.
It's never too late to make the changes necessary to reduce the risks of heart disease. Whether such changes require big adjustments or small tweaks to your lifestyle and routine, our carers are here to support you to a healthier future. In this post, we will cover what heart disease is, common risk factors and how to reduce the risks of developing heart disease or cardiovascular disease.
What does heart disease refer to?
'Heart disease' is a broad term referring to various conditions affecting the heart's structure and function, including blood vessel diseases, such as coronary artery disease, heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias), and heart defects you’re born with (congenital heart defects), among others.
Another term often used is 'cardiovascular disease', which refers to conditions involving narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to a heart attack, chest pain (angina) or stroke.
What are the common causes of heart disease?
Heart disease is usually caused by a combination of factors, some in our control and others which are not. Certain health conditions can also increase the risk of heart disease, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Risk factors for heart disease that we can change include:
Being overweight or obese
Risk factors for heart disease that we can not control include:
Family history of heart disease
In light of these risk factors, it is important to note that much can be done to prevent heart disease and promote cardiovascular health, even as we age. Let's explore some practical steps you can take to protect your heart and live a healthier, more fulfilling life.
1. Adopt a Heart-Healthy Diet
A balanced diet plays a crucial role in maintaining heart health. Seniors should focus on consuming plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Limiting intake of saturated and trans fats, salt, and added sugars can help lower the risk of heart disease.
Just For U Care's in-home carers are trained to prepare healthy meals for our clients and can prepare a daily menu according to your preferences and health requirements. For more diet tips, see our blog post 'Top 10 Healthy Eating Tips for Seniors'.
2. Stay Active
Regular physical activity is essential for cardiovascular health. Not only does it aid fitness, but exercise can also help reduce the chance of blood clotting, improve brain function and lower blood pressure. If you can, aim for 15-30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each day, such as brisk walking. Strength training exercises, focusing on major muscle groups, should also be incorporated at least twice a week. For more ideas on easy to adopt exercises, check out our blog on 'The Top 7 Exercises for Seniors to Keep Active'.
3. Maintain a Healthy Weight
Being overweight or obese increases the risk of heart disease, in addition to a range of conditions such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension and sleep apnoea. Seniors should strive to achieve and maintain a healthy weight through a combination of healthy eating and regular exercise. In addition to staying active and watching your diet, it is recommended to consult with a GP to create a plan for maintaining a healthy weight.
4. Manage Stress and Isolation
According to the Heart Foundation, mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression and chronic stress can take a toll on heart health. Try to practice stress-reduction techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, or spending time in nature to promote relaxation and emotional well-being. If you are concerned for your mental health, a visit to your GP is recommended to discuss your condition and find further help.
In addition, reducing isolation by maintaining social connections and personal relationships is another important factor in reducing the risk of heart disease. Friends, family and an in-home carer can offer fantastic social support, particularly if you are living by yourself at home.
5. Quit Smoking
Smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. To put it simply, anyone who smokes should quit as soon as possible. There are many resources available to help individuals quit smoking, including support groups, counselling, Quit and the Quitline, and nicotine replacement therapies. Speak with your health professional for more information and guidance.
6. Limit Alcohol Consumption
Excessive alcohol intake can contribute to high blood pressure and other cardiovascular problems. It is recommended to limit alcohol consumption to moderate levels, with Better Health Victoria suggesting adults over 65 consume no more than 2 standard alcoholic drinks per day. However, it should be noted, when addressing health concerns, the recommendation is generally to avoid alcohol completely.
7. Monitor Blood Pressure and Cholesterol
Regular monitoring of blood pressure and cholesterol levels is crucial for early detection of heart disease risk factors. It is recommended to work closely with your healthcare provider to manage these levels through lifestyle modifications and, if necessary, medication.
8. Get Quality Sleep
Poor sleep quality has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease as it can often lead to many of the major risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity. Older adults should aim for 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night by maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and ensuring a comfortable sleep environment.
By taking proactive steps to protect your heart health, you can enjoy an improved quality of life and reduce your risk of heart disease-related complications. Remember, it's never too late to start prioritising your heart health.