Insightsthe blog of Porter Hills
February is Heart Health Month!
Angela Lindeman, RN BSN
Porter Hills Home Care
Click here to view the WZZM13 Senior Wellness Segment on this topic.
As a former Emergency Room nurse, I took care of patients whose lives were forever changed by heart disease. I have witnessed the residual effects of a stroke impact the daily interactions of family members and also patients who experience heart attacks, with outcomes that affect not only their physical well-being their mental health as well.
Our heart is the size of our fist and it nestles itself protectively behind the ribs and sternum on the left side of our chest. The heart has blood vessels (arteries) that carry oxygenated blood away to your tissues, organs, and other blood vessels (veins) that bring deoxygenated blood back to your heart. As we age however, these blood vessels become “stiff,” and hard. Fatty deposits begin to build up on the vessels causing them to narrow. This narrowing doesn’t allow the normal blood to flow through the vessel, which can lead to a blockage and less oxygen delivered to the tissues and organs. Strokes, heart attacks, and blood clots in legs and lungs are all outcomes of narrowing vessels due to age and poor heart health.
According to The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease is the primary cause of death in the United States for both men and women. Heart disease claims almost 1 million lives annually. This is a staggering statistic, but there are ways we can prevent heart disease as we age.
There are many things that attribute to and can prevent heart disease. Four simple lifestyle changes that we can address as we age are: the foods we eat, our exercise habits, knowing and being compliant with our medications, and breaking bad habits.
Be a food fanatic!
Foods that you should be conscious of and seek out include:
- Lean meat (chicken, fish)
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains/legumes
- Healthy fats (almonds, avocados).
A main food component to be aware of is sodium. Sodium increases your blood pressure causing the heart to pump harder and work harder. Sodium can be found in canned foods, especially canned soups and vegetables.
Foods to avoid include:
- Foods high in cholesterol, especially red meat and high-fat dairy products.
- Fried foods (fried chicken, french fries)
- Fast food
- Processed foods (frozen TV dinners)
Finally, watch portion sizes and keep everything in moderation
Get elevated with exercise!
Make exercise a part of your daily routine. Swim, walk, or find a group exercise program that will help you stay committed. Start or join a walking group on Meetup. Your local YMCA may offer Active Older Adult (AOA) programs for individuals 55 and older. Some also offer Healthy Heart preventative programs for individuals who are already diagnosed with heart disease. In the Healthy Heart program, with a medical release from your physician, your blood pressure is monitored by a nurse or EMT during your exercise sessions. Collaborate with your physician to come up with an exercise plan that is tailored to your needs.
Make your medications a mission!
In a poll of U.S. individuals 65 years old and older who use medications, researchers found that 51% take at least five different prescription drugs regularly, and one in four take between 10 and 19 pills each day. 57% of those polled admit that they forget to take their medications. Among those using five or more medications, 63% say they forget doses, compared to 51% among those who take fewer medicines (Med Ad News February 2010).
To decrease your risk of heart attack or stroke take your meds on time and as prescribed by your physician. If medication compliance is an issue for you or someone you love, there are options out there to assist you.
- Set an alarm or reminder
- Find a medication box that allows you to set up medications for one week or a month.
- Contact an organization or agency that may be able to provide assistance with setting up your medication box or dispenser.
If money is a barrier with obtaining your medications, please let your physician or pharmacist know immediately, so they can assist you in finding low cost alternatives.
Breaking bad habits!
- Quit Smoking– Smoking decreases your ability to exercise, increases your blood pressure and the ability for your blood to clot. It’s never too late to quit, and there are many resources available to help you. Go to smokefree.gov to download an app to assist you in your desire to quit.
- Decrease your alcohol intake– Drinking any type of alcohol can lead to elevated blood pressure, increased risk of obesity, increased risk of stroke, and in excess can cause sudden cardiac death. As the American Heart Association (AHA) states,“If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. This means an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.”
You can breathe without a lung, you can function without a spleen, your liver can rejuvenate itself, but you have ONE unique and amazing heart… it makes everything in your body run. You CANNOT survive without your heart. In February as we celebrate American Heart Month, pick up the pace, eat your veggies, know your medications, and be STRONG in your fight against heart disease. As Betty Friedan states, “Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.”