February is American Heart Month, offering everyone an opportunity to think about their heart health. Heart disease is a leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States, but it’s also largely preventable. If you’re like most Americans, though, your heart health might not be something you think about often.
There’s no better time than now to learn! Here are four facts you should know about heart health for seniors.
1. Heart Disease – This is an “umbrella” phrase used to describe a wide variety of diseases that affect the heart and its blood vessels. All sorts of conditions fall under that umbrella, including arrhythmias (heart rhythm issues), coronary artery disease, and atherosclerosis.
Most conditions encompassed by heart disease can increase a person’s risk of heart attack, chest pain, or even stroke. That’s why it is important to have regular check-ups that help gauge a person’s overall health, including the fitness of his or her heart.
2. Heart Attack- It’s important that everyone know the symptoms of a heart attack, because when one occurs, immediate emergency care is necessary. The longer a person goes without treatment, the more damage the heart incurs.
The American Heart Association identifies the following symptoms:
Chest pain or discomfort
Shortness of breath
Pain in the back, neck, abdomen, or even the jaw
Gas-like pain or pressure
Women often experience heart attacks differently than men do, so it’s important to also recognize common symptoms specific to women. While men typically experience chest pain, women may not and they often experience the lesser-known symptoms, like pain radiating down the arms or extreme fatigue
3. Live a Heart-healthy Lifestyle- There are a few basics—get regular physical activity, don’t smoke, limit alcohol consumption, and get plenty of quality sleep. Sleep-wise, the National Sleep Foundation recommends older adults get between seven and eight hours of sleep each night.
A balanced diet is also important. Aim to fill your plate with plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean proteins (like turkey or chicken), whole grains, and a small amount of healthy fats.
Regular check-ups and age-appropriate screenings also play an important role in a heart-healthy lifestyle.
4. Know Your Numbers- As part of those check-ups, doctors often order blood work to make sure your heart is in good shape. To get a good gauge on heart health, you’ll want to know your blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels. Here’s what recommended:
Blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg or lower
Fasting blood glucose (blood sugar) of 100 mg/dL or lower
Total cholesterol of 200 mg/dL or lower
LDL (bad) cholesterol of 100 mg/dL or lower
HDL (good) cholesterol of 40 mg/dL or higher for men, 50 mg/dL or higher for women
Triglycerides of 150 mg/dL or lower
While these are the general guidelines, talk with your doctor about what numbers are right for you or your loved one based on your individual and family health history.