2024-06-24 9:48 PM

Just Keep Moving: Simple Heart Health Tips For Seniors

It may sound like you’ve heard this before – probably because you almost certainly have: “The most important thing for seniors, like everyone, is to stay active.” advises Gordon Theisz, MD, FAAFP, physician at Family Medicine in Falls Church.  “Some type of cardiovascular activity for 20 — 30 minutes a day can help reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.”

But that may not be enough.  “Sitting Is the New Smoking,” a term coined by Mayo Clinic professor Dr. James Levine, refers to studies in recent years showing that sitting for hours at a time, whether at a desk or on your couch, increases your risk for cancer, heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, and depression.  Worse, the positive benefit of any amount of daily exercise is undone by a sedentary lifestyle.  Ironically, the article by the same name, which popularized the term, came out in February 2020, weeks before the entire world was locked in their homes for what felt like several decades.

“That’s when people get in trouble; when they just sit, sit, sit,” cautions Eileen West, MD, FACP, Internal Medicine and Women’s Health Physician and owner at Eileen West MD and Associates.  West suggests any movement, even walking around the living room, throughout the day.  “One of the best exercises as we get older is walking – get your steps in!”

Indeed, as we age, circulation and plaque build-ups cause atherosclerosis, a hardening of the walls of arteries, which can lead to heart disease and stroke.  Experts recommend moving around for about five minutes every hour to get your blood flowing.  For those with mobility issues, any movement is better than none – get upright, stretch, or otherwise do what you can to stay active.

In addition to staying generally active, Theisz reminds readers to maintain a generally healthy lifestyle.  “Eating healthy, not smoking, and making sure your blood pressure is under good control are also keys to better health,”  he said.  

The health benefits of a daily glass of red wine are starting to look less beneficial in new studies, according to West.  “It’s more like 1-2 glasses per week,” she said.  Studies have also shown that the antioxidant benefits of red wine are also found in white wine.

West warned that women should know about three cardiovascular risk factors specific to them; specifically, “women who had either preeclampsia or gestational diabetes during pregnancy, and women who had significant heat flashes during menopause.”   These make women significantly more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, even decades later in life.  Even though it may be hard to recall, West says it’s worth it, “Think back.  Tell your doctor.”  West also advised that early heart disease begins around age 55 for men and 65 for women.

The circumference of your waist, regardless of other factors, has recently been found to heavily impact cardiovascular risk, especially for women.  Increase fruits and vegetables, reduce processed foods and sugar, and reduce sodium.  “Being heavy increases all risks: blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol,” said West.

Readers of all ages are encouraged to enjoy a brisk walk during the unseasonably warm weather this week, and to get in the habit of standing and walking throughout the day.

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