Many people are focused on candy hearts with romantic messages and heart-shaped boxes of candy in February, but this month also happens to be American Heart Month. What better time for baby boomers to think about their hearts in a literal way, focusing on ways to prevent heart disease and develop heart-healthy habits?
Of course, we boomers are already focused on our health to some extent. In fact, nearly four times as many baby boomers worry about health than finances or outliving their money in retirement.
Our worries aren’t unfounded. Consider these sobering facts about heart disease, the most prevalent fatal chronic disease afflicting older Americans, according to a report by the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI):
- Heart disease accounts for 32 percent of all deaths and is the leading cause of death for both men and women age 65 and older.
- Although many Americans do not perceive heart disease as a woman’s health issue, estimates indicate that from 40 to 50 percent of postmenopausal women will develop heart disease.
- The American Heart Association estimates that 81% of people who die of coronary heart disease are 65 years old or older.
The good news is that even modest changes to your diet and lifestyle can improve your heart health and lower your risk by as much as 80 percent. Since February happens to be American Heart Month, let’s celebrate by taking a quick look at six ways to improve your heart health:
Here’s how to get started:
Control Your Risk Factors
Be proactive and know your numbers when it comes to your health. Regular check-ups are essential as we age. Type 2 Diabetes is at its highest level for those over 65. And baby boomers are more likely to have high cholesterol and high blood pressure than the previous generation. All three of these conditions increase the risk of heart disease. If you have any of these risk factors, talk to your doctor about implementing an effective treatment plan.
Break Out Those Sneakers
Step away from the TV and get your heart rate up. The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise. In other words, aim for about 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Not so bad, right? Moderate exercise is classified as walking, riding a bike, going for a swim, gardening, a game of basketball, or even washing the car. Pick an activity you love so you’ll stick with it.
The good news is that baby boomers are less likely to smoke than previous generations. However, if you’re an exception to the rule, February is the perfect time to quit. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, smoking is a risk factor for heart disease, and causes one in five deaths each year in the United States. Need help? The American Lung Association offers tips and tools including a counselor-staffed phone line you can call for support. Get started!
Eat a Heart Healthy Diet
Ditch the processed and fast foods and eat more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and healthy fats and oils. We boomers love to eat out, but try and eat more home-cooked meals to have more control over your diet. Make it fun and have a potluck inviting your friends and family to bring a heart-healthy dish and share their recipes. Eat healthier and control portion size. And not just for February. Shoot for the long run. Maintain a healthy body weight and your heart will thank you.
Baby boomers often face stressful situations including caring for aging parents, retirement worries, loss of a loved one, and declining health. Nonetheless, as we age, it becomes imperative to find ways to reduce this silent killer that is a leading contributor to heart disease. Find healthy ways to relax whether it’s listening to soothing music, an evening stroll, deep breathing, or watching a funny movie.
Last year, baby boomers received new warnings about alcohol as people aged 50-plus deaths linked to alcohol soared. Although studies have shown that moderate drinking – one drink a day for women and two drinks per day for men – can reduce heart disease risk, those benefits quickly turn into health risks when you drink more than that amount. If you’re over-drinking, cut down the number of days you drink alcohol, reduce the amount of alcohol you drink at one sitting, and avoid people, places, things and activities that may trigger a drinking binge.
By making some small changes in your everyday life, you can make a big difference for your long-term health. Choose to make yourself a priority and ask your friends and family to join you in your efforts to become heart-healthy so you can have a long, fulfilling life – not only during American Heart Month, but every month of the year!