How to Prevent Heart Disease

Doctor holding a foam heart toy

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That means that taking steps to prevent heart disease—especially in older adults—is key to improving quality of life and improving longevity. The good part about heart disease prevention is that many risk factors are well within our control.

Heart Disease in Older Adults — What You Need to Know

Also known as:

  • Coronary artery disease (CAD)
  • Coronary heart disease (CHD)
  • Ischemic heart disease
  • Cardiovascular disease

Heart disease is not a singular condition, but rather a blanket term that refers to a wide variety of diseases of the cardiovascular system. The most common type in the United States is coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD results in reduced blood flow to and from the heart as well as narrowing arteries due to plaque buildup in blood vessels.

Complications of this condition are serious and include:

  • Abnormal rhythm of the heart (arrhythmia)
  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Pain in the chest (angina)
  • Stroke

9 Common Causes of Heart Disease

Causes and risk factors for CAD, according to the American Heart Association, include:

  1. Genetics. Certain genes and gene mutations can influence how likely someone is to develop heart issues.
  2. Family history. Risk of heart problems, including cardiovascular disease, increase when family members also have heart-related problems.
  3. High blood cholesterol levels. Experts associate high cholesterol levels with an increased risk of heart issues, specifically high levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein) or "bad" cholesterol paired with low levels of HDL (high-density lipoprotein) or "good" cholesterol and high levels of triglycerides.
  4. High BMI (body mass index). People who are overweight or obese are more likely to develop heart issues. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, obesity is associated with higher risk of heart disease itself along with other risk factors for the condition, like hypertension.
  5. High blood pressure (hypertension). High blood pressure can wear down arteries, increasing the risk of heart problems.
  6. Low physical activity. Leading a sedentary lifestyle increases the risk of several health problems, including cardiovascular issues.
  7. Tobacco use. Use of tobacco products, including cigarette smoking and chewing tobacco, increases risk of heart issues. Long-term exposure to secondhand smoke can also increase risk.
  8. Type 2 diabetes. Having diabetes, particularly type 2, can increase the risk of developing several other health conditions, including CAD and heart failure. According to the CDC, diabetes increases high blood sugar (glucose), which in turn can damage nerves and blood vessels in and around the heart.
  9. Narrow, tight arteries (atherosclerosis). Narrow, tightened blood vessels mean a higher risk of heart disease and stroke.

9 Common Causes of Heart Disease

Adults over the age of 65 are much more likely to develop cardiovascular problems than younger populations.

But why?

Generally speaking, older adults are at greater risk of heart problems due to a variety of factors, including:

Best Heart Disease Prevention Tips for Older Adults

While it isn’t possible to change some risk factors for heart problems, like genetics and family history, it is possible to change many more. Healthy lifestyle changes older adults can make that reduce the risk of heart disease include the following.

Regular Exercise

Regular exercise can boost both physical and mental health. Older adults need a combination of stretching routines, cardio workouts, and strength-training exercises to stay active and healthy, according to the CDC.

At St. Andrew’s, we encourage all residents to get engaged and stay active. Our communities do so by offering a wide range of amenities and activities for our residents, such as:

  • Regular workout programs
  • On-site fitness centers
  • Outdoor walking paths
  • Bocce ball courts
  • Community gardens
  • And much more

Healthy Eating

Enjoying a heart-healthy diet is one of, if not the, best ways to reduce the risk of heart attack and CAD. Heart-healthy foods include:

  • Legumes like black beans and lentils
  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Whole grains like quinoa and brown rice
  • The right type of fats (unsaturated fats), which are found in avocados, olive oil, and nuts

Weight Loss

Reaching a healthy weight can improve overall health, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular-related problems. Enjoying a healthy diet, partaking in regular exercise, and taking certain medications can all help someone reach a healthy body weight.

Medications

According to the American Heart Association, several classes of drugs can help improve the heart. They do so through various means, like lowering cholesterol, thinning the blood, and more. Some of these classes of medications include:

  • ACE inhibitors like Qbrelis (lisinopril)
  • Beta blockers like Lopressor (metoprolol)
  • Blood thinners like Warfarin (coumadin)
  • Statins like Lipitor (atorvastatin)

Quit Smoking

Quitting smoking, chewing tobacco, or removing yourself from situations in which you’re exposed to secondhand smoke is perhaps the single-best action you can take to improve your overall health and the health of those around you.

Quitting is hard, but it is possible, and there are plenty of ways to wean yourself off tobacco products. Some tried-and-true methods that former smokers have used to wean themselves off these products include:

  • Chewing gum (either regular or nicotine)
  • Using nicotine patches
  • Using e-cigarettes for a short period of time, as long-term use of e-cigarettes and vaping can pose their own health risks
  • Accessing the SAMHSA National Helpline, which is free and available 24/7 online or at 1-800-662-4357
  • Taking prescription medications like varenicline (Chantix) and bupropion SR (Wellbutrin SR)
  • Substituting cigarettes with something similar in size and shape, like toothpicks

Prioritizing Heart Health at St. Andrew’s

Healthy living is a priority at all senior living communities within the St. Andrew’s network. Part of living well is taking care of the heart. To that end, our caring team members work with qualified health care providers to help residents learn how to prevent heart disease. Contact us to learn more about how we can work with you or your loved one’s health care team to develop a heart-healthy senior living program.

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