The Healthy Heartbeat - Volume 2

Heart Health for the Ages – A Decade by Decade Guide

Advice for All Ages

Heart health, like heart disease, is something you develop over time. Every little choice you make—having another glass of wine, eating that piece of cake, taking the elevator instead of the stairs—impacts your cardiovascular wellness. Before you skip ahead to find your age bracket, read the following general advice. It is equally important at every stage of life:

  • If you smoke, quit! Quit young. Quit now. It’s one of the best things you can do to keep your heart healthy. Nicotine is harmful to the cardiovascular system. It raises blood pressure, spikes adrenaline, which increases your heart rate, and raises your risk for heart attack. If you need help stubbing out that last cigarette, call the quit smoking line at 800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669). MarinHealth also offers a smoking cessation program.
  • Get on the Mediterranean Diet. Eat more lean protein (fish, lean meats, beans, nuts and legumes), plenty of fruits and vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. Choose whole grains over refined grains. Experiment with different grains like barley, brown rice, farro, quinoa, and whole grain pasta. Substitute olive oil for butter and herbs and spices for salt, which contributes to high blood pressure. Avoid sugar and packaged foods. Read nutrition labels! Some brands add sugar where you don’t expect it, in foods such as vitamin water, peanut butter, canned soups, protein bars, granola, or low-fat yogurt.
  • Vary your workouts. Try hiking, biking, water aerobics, volleyball, pickleball… Find an activity that you enjoy and can stick with, or mix it up so you don’t get bored. Develop exercise habits for a long, healthy life. If you need help getting started, we created the following health tips sheets keep you on track towards optimal health through all stages of your life.
  • Practice stress reduction. When you’re stressed, your body releases adrenaline, which temporarily accelerates your breathing and heart rate and increases your blood pressure and cortisol, increasing sugars (glucose) in the bloodstream, enhancing your brain's use of glucose, and increasing the availability of substances that repair tissues. This is known as the flight-or-fight response. If you experience chronic stress, that fight-or-flight reaction stays turned on, which can disrupt your metabolism and put you at increased risk for heart disease. Find healthy ways to destress, like yoga, hanging out with friends, or hiking in nature.
  • Limit Alcohol. Overindulging in alcohol can trigger an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, or AFIB, which increases your risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. The American Heart Association recommends no more than one drink per day for women and no more than two for men.

20s and 30s

It’s easy to take your health for granted when you’re a young adult. You may feel like you can pull all-nighters, party every weekend, and work long hours with no consequences. But trust us, your cardiovascular system knows what you’re up to. Plaque may already be accumulating in your veins. It’s never too early to take better care of yourself.

  • Don’t vape! Like regular cigarettes, e-cigarettes contain toxic chemicals. One of these, Vitamin E acetate, is believed to have caused a recent outbreak of lung disease and even deaths. Vaping has all the risks of old school smoking. In addition, E-cigarettes emit an aerosol that can exacerbate asthma and constrict your arteries. Whether you vape or smoke, getting more exercise can help you quit. Exercise seems to reduce the urge to smoke. The gym is not your only option. Recreational sports like tennis, basketball, or volleyball are a fun way to get some cardio and maybe make new friends too.
  • Practice anger management. Are you hot tempered? Anger isn’t good for you. Research shows that in the two hours following an angry outburst, you are slightly more at risk for angina, heart attack, stroke, or abnormal heart rhythm. Try to moderate your anger now, while you are young and healthy.
  • Don’t binge drink. The CDC defines binge drinking as consuming 5 or more drinks in two hours for men and 4 or more drinks in 2 hours for women. It is most common among adults aged 18–34 years, and twice as common among men than women. Heavy drinking can increase your blood pressure and trigger an irregular heart rhythm, such as atrial fibrillation or AFIB.

40s

This is a busy time in life, when you may be juggling work responsibilities and parenting. It’s easy to put your health on the back burner and “let yourself go” a little. Please don’t!

  • Watch your weight–and your waist. Excess weight raises your risk for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and metabolic syndrome, all of which can lead to artery damage and heart disease. A larger waistline is an indication that you could have more visceral fat—unhealthy fat that develops deep in the belly around the vital organs. Take out a tape measure and measure your waistline. If you are a woman, it should be under 35 inches, and if you are a man, under 40 inches.
  • Don’t just sit there. Research has found that sitting for many hours at a stretch is a risk factor for heart disease – even if you exercise regularly. That’s hard to avoid if you work at a computer all day, so take a break once every hour to move and walk around. Try working standing up for a while. Add extra steps by parking far from the store or taking the stairs instead of the elevator.
  • Know your numbers. When you have your annual physical, make a note of your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. Those are important indicators of your heart disease risk.
  • Don’t self-medicate. Your forties can be a stressful time, but overeating, drinking too much, and smoking are not quick fixes! If life’s worries are keeping you awake, get up and read for an hour rather than popping a sleeping pill. Yoga, meditation, therapy, and exercise are all healthier ways to manage stress and get more sleep.

50s

Know what’s not so fabulous about your fifties? Poor lifestyle choices start catching up with you. You may develop high blood pressure, pre-diabetes or diabetes, or angina symptoms (chest pain and shortness of breath). Men may experience erectile dysfunction, a symptom of artery damage and potential metabolic syndrome and/or diabetes. Women lose the protection estrogen provides against heart disease as they enter menopause, and their heart attack risk becomes comparable to that of men.

  • Pay attention to your body. Don’t dismiss symptoms that seem like minor nuisances: Discuss them with your doctor. Fatigue, leg cramps, nausea, and in men, erectile dysfunction, can all signal potential cardiovascular issues.
  • Keep exercising. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, aim for at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five days a week. Consider getting a step counter and challenge yourself to see how many steps you can get in a day! One extra lap around the block with the dog, a few extra trips up and down the stairs… it all adds up to a positive difference in your health.
  • Don’t ignore sleep issues. Sleep issues are common in middle age. While some might be circumstantial, like when you lie awake worrying about family or finances, others could be health related. Sleep apnea is a condition in which your airway is briefly blocked during sleep and you stop breathing. Symptoms include loud snoring, gasping for air during sleep, insomnia, morning headache, waking up with a dry mouth, and feeling tired and irritable during the day. If you experience any of these symptoms, talk to your doctor, because sleep apnea is linked to heart disease.

Learn the symptoms of stroke and heart attack.

If you think you may be experiencing a stroke or heart attack, DO NOT ATTEMPT TO DRIVE YOURSELF TO THE HOSPITAL. CALL 911.

60s

Even with the best lifestyle choices, there may come a time, often in your 60s, when you need medication to control blood pressure and other risk factors for heart disease. Your doctor will use key measures like blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar, as well as possible tests such as a coronary calcium scan, to calculate your odds of having a heart attack or a stroke over the next decade. This determines whether you should start taking preventative medications. Of course, taking medication does NOT mean you should ease up on your healthy habits! And if your lifestyle choices have not been the best, it’s never too late to change your ways.

  • Keep your blood sugar in the recommended range if you have diabetes.
  • Take all medication as prescribed.
  • Add small weights to your workout routine. This slows the loss of muscle mass that happens with age and makes it easier for your muscles to draw oxygen from your bloodstream, so your heart doesn’t have to pump too hard.

70s and Beyond

By the time you reach your 70s, you may be managing more than one condition. But you still need to partake in your own care by maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

  • Keep all your doctors in the loop. If you‘re seeing specialists in addition to your PCP, make sure that all your doctors know about all your prescriptions and any tests or procedures you are having.
  • Keep track of your medical history.
  • Don’t ignore unusual symptoms. If something feels strange or different, see your doctor and describe your symptoms in a detailed manner.
  • Keep up with your vaccines. Those shots help you stay healthy. As you age, you become more vulnerable to common illnesses such as pneumonia, shingles, and flu. Coming down with one of these illnesses can be dangerous for people with heart disease.
  • Be careful managing your meds. When you consistently fill prescriptions at the same drugstore, your pharmacist will know what medications you are taking. Be sure to talk to the pharmacist about a new prescription and read the patient information he or she provides—you are not being a nuisance. This is part of what a pharmacist is trained to do. Pick up one of those pill boxes that covers a week or a month at a time and sort everything in advance.

Sports Cardiology: For Athletes, Weekend Warriors, and You

As one of a small number of sports cardiology centers nationwide, the MarinHealth Cardiovascular Performance Center is at the forefront of this emerging specialty. Whether you’re a professional athlete or a weekend warrior, a sports cardiologist can help you up your game and enhance your performance–safely! A sports cardiologist can help you:

  • Enhance your fitness and athletic performance
  • Prevent heart disease
  • Extend your athletic career
  • Make sure you can safely meet your exercise goals and are not at risk for a cardiovascular event

The Cardiovascular Performance Center provides care for adult athletes of all levels and ages – including “occupational athletes,” middle-age athletes or those experiencing symptoms, and athletes who have a diagnosed cardiovascular condition. Learn more about this new medical specialty and the cardiovascular benefits of exercise by listening to this short podcast.

Best Exercises to Strengthen Your Heart

You don’t have to be an athlete to get your cardio on. The key is to combine three basic categories of exercise:

  • Aerobic Exercise
    Aerobic exercise literally “gets your blood going.” It improves circulation, which helps lower your blood pressure and heart rate and makes your heart pump more effectively. Regular aerobic exercise also lowers your risk of developing pre-diabetes and diabetes. Running or brisk walking, interval training, jumping rope, swimming, cycling, or tennis are all good options. Swimming has the added advantage of being easy on achy joints. Try to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise a day, at least five days a week.
  • Resistance/Weight Training
    Whether you use weights or bands, strength training has an indirect positive effect on heart health. That’s because resistance training impacts your BMI, replacing fat with leaner muscle mass. Combining aerobic and resistance exercise has an effect on the fats in your blood, helping to lower your LDL (bad) cholesterol while raising your HDL (good) cholesterol. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends two sessions of resistance training a week, on non-consecutive days.
  • Flexibility and Balance
    In order to maintain a good cardiovascular and resistance regimen and reduce your risk of falls and other injuries, you need to maintain your balance and flexibility. Flexibility workouts also reduce the incidence of muscular issues, cramping, and joint pain. Yoga, tai chi, and stretching are all great options to help keep you limber.
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