Cardiovascular Health Is at the “Heart” of Slowing the Aging Process from the Inside Out
As we age, our risk for developing heart disease and related disorders increases. Changes in our body make it tougher for us to achieve optimal cardiovascular health: the walls of our hearts, our capillary walls, and our arteries all thicken, making it more difficult for our heart to pump blood through the body in an efficient manner; our red cell production slows down; our heart’s muscles deteriorate; and more.
While many of these changes are a normal part of the aging process, they’re often exacerbated by bad habits.
Care to know what got us here?
Below we breakdown the data from the American Heart Association’s Heart 2017 update on “Disease and Stroke Statistics” and suggest ways to incorporate heart-healthy behaviors into your daily life.
“Suboptimal dietary habits” are one of the biggest risk factors when it comes to developing heart disease and other cardiovascular disorders. Too much salt, not enough omega-3 fatty acids, and “low consumption of fruits and vegetables” all contribute to poor heart health.
Fad diets are a dime a dozen these days and most are best left ignored (unless sanctioned by your doctor). Our advice? Keep things simple! When optimizing for the heart, here are some key habits to consider adding to your regimen:
- Make as many of your own meals as possible using fresh, unprocessed ingredients. Restaurant foods tend to be high in sodium and it’s impossible to know what kinds of hidden ingredients the chefs are using to augment the flavor of the dish. Not sure what to make with the ingredients you have on hand? Google it! The internet is full of fabulous recipes, video tutorials and ingredient substitution suggestions for when you aren’t sure what to do with what you’ve got. (If you’re worried about time being an issue, consider meal prepping one day each week.)
- Save red meat for special occasions and only consume it in small quantities. Red meat tends to be high in saturated fat—which is the kind of fat you should avoid whenever possible. Swapping the steak for omega-3-rich fish like salmon—which is dense with healthy fats—is a great heart-friendly option. If you do opt for red meat, note that the AHA defines a serving of meat as being “about the size of a deck of cards or three ounces.”
- Incorporate other heart-healthy ingredients in your daily meals as often as possible. These might be nuts, legumes, fiber-rich grains and lots of vegetables—including as many leafy greens as you can get in.
- Be picky when it comes to eating fast food. While the AHA acknowledges that not all fast food is inherently bad, it’s important to make smart choices when you’re on the go. Avoid greasy burgers, deep fried foods, high-fat salad dressings, and anything heavy on sugar and salt. Nutrition information should be available for menu options at all major fast food chains—if possible, investigate ahead of time to ensure you make the healthiest choice possible when you get to the counter.
- Get on board with portion control. SciLife’s own Dr. Rosenstein breaks down what you should be eating—and how much—in his book, Defy Aging.
Statistically speaking, we become less physically active as we age—around a quarter of female adults and a third of male adults over the age of 75 get in the recommended amount of aerobic activity.
Whether this is because we have less time, less energy or more daily aches and pains, making regular exercise a priority in our lives must happen sooner rather than later if we want to improve heart health and extend our lifespans. After all, exercise is not only good for the heart, it helps reduce blood pressure, lower blood sugar levels and inflammation, and increase insulin sensitivity.
For adults, the AHA recommends getting in at least 2.5 hours of “moderate-intensity” physical activity every week. If crunched for time, 75 minutes of “vigorous-intensity” activity can have the same benefits. In addition, it’s important to get in a couple strength training activities every week—these are not only great for the heart, they help promote good form and stability for all forms of activity.
Not sure where to start when it comes to upping your daily activity levels? Here are some suggestions:
- Reflect on whether you can walk to some places you normally drive to. Maybe you’ve gotten in the habit of taking the car to the mailbox down the street—setting a goal of walking to get the mail every day is a great starting place for increasing your daily activity. Likewise, if you need to pick up a few items from a nearby grocery or convenience store, opt to go on foot if you think you can tackle the distance.
- Walking not an option? Take the bus or the train! In a recent study on the relationship between public transit and obesity, researchers discovered that “higher mass transit use was correlated with lower obesity rates in counties across the United States.” This is no small matter given the link between obesity and heart disease.
- As you’re working to increase the amount of walking you do in a day, it’s a great idea to invest in a pedometer or fitness tracker. Some devices, like Fitbit, even allow you to download apps on your phone which make goal setting, tracking and accountability that much easier. That said, there are a number of devices available in a number of price ranges—your smartphone may even have a tracker built right into it. The key is to set a step or fitness goal for yourself and make an effort to track your progress every day.
- Interested in joining a gym but have avoided doing so because of all the 20-something social media stars that seem to be there all the time? Check out your local YMCA or community center—most will offer programs dedicated to senior fitness, offering guidance and support tailored to an older age group while also giving you the chance to join a friendly community of like-minded individuals.
- If a gym or community center isn’t your thing but you like the idea of performing physical activity with a friendly face, look for an accountability partner. Research shows that finding a friend to offer social support on your journey and hold you accountable to your goals substantially increases the likelihood of success. You can ask around your circle of friends to see if anyone wants to join you on your journey to better heart health. The internet provides great tools for connecting with others, as well—social media sites, online forums, and websites like GetMotivatedBuddies.com are great places to find support.
- Wanting to keep your journey personal or can’t find someone with similar goals in mind? You can still find a ton of great—and free—resources to help guide your journey. There are a number of great fitness apps on the market, as well as video tutorials on YouTube, workout printouts on Pinterest, and health experts on Twitter. If you’d like to keep your online engagement to a minimum, just head down to your local library—there’s a good chance your librarian will have some great recommendations for strength training and fitness guides that are available in good-old-fashioned printed book form.
- Whatever you decide to do, consult with a medical professional before starting on any new fitness plan. In addition to speaking with your doctor, you may also consider seeing a trained physical therapist—or PT—especially if old aches and pains are getting in the way of your ability to exercise. A good PT can help you discover what’s causing the discomfort and guide you through overcoming any injuries, old and new.
Smoking and Excessive Alcohol Consumption
By now, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that smoking is a major player when it comes to a huge number of health problems. Smoking can lead to emphysema, gum disease and cancer. It’s been shown to be a major contributor to coronary heart disease, and it remains one of the biggest contributors to premature death in the United States.
The sooner you’re able to talk to your doctor about getting on a plan to quit smoking, the better.
Likewise, drinking too much takes a big toll on health. It may lead to high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke. In addition, consuming too much alcohol correlates with an increase in daily caloric intake—this is particularly concerning given that—as noted—obesity is considered a contributing factor to heart disease.
According to the AHA 2017 update, global health experts are so clear on the adverse effects of smoking and excessive alcohol consumption that in 2012 at the World Health Assembly, they targeted these habits in a plan to “reduce premature (age 30–70 years) noncommunicable disease mortality by 25% by 2025.”
All that said, we know that excessive alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking are serious and difficult habits to break. It may sound trite, but our one piece of advice is to seek professional help. Reach out to a doctor or mental health professional today and work with them on a plan to reduce or eliminate your consumption of these heart-damaging products. You may want to consider talking to a few professionals; managing addiction is not easy—but working through it with health care professionals who understand the extent of the issue and offer solutions you can reasonably work into your lifestyle will make the task a little less daunting.
Supplement the Right Way to Experience Graceful Aging and Better Heart Health
At SciLife BioSciences, we developed the VitaYears™ Anti-Aging Multivitamin with your total body in mind—heart and all. Our multivitamin is specially formulated with ingredients like vitamin K2, which studies suggest supports cardiovascular health.* As part of a lifestyle that includes regular exercise and a well-balanced diet, the VitaYears™ Anti-Aging Multivitamin can help provide you with the boost you need to sustain good habits and make your heart happy and healthy for years to come.