Did your doctor just tell you that you need to start eating a heart-healthy diet? Or maybe you just know that it’s time to make your health more of a priority. Regardless of your reasoning, adopting a heart-healthy diet can provide tremendous benefits to not only your heart but also the way you feel.
Seniors and Heart Health
Cardiovascular disease is a term that refers to numerous diseases that affect both the heart and blood vessels. Many cardiovascular diseases are related to a process known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis develops when plaque builds up in arterial walls. When this happens, it’s difficult for blood to flow through – which can result in a life-threatening heart attack or a stroke.
Seniors, in particular, are susceptible to an increasing number of health issues as their bodies wear. Cardiovascular disease is one of those issues that becomes more likely with age. In fact, about four out of five people who die from heart disease are over 65 years old.
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The main reason seniors, in particular, become more susceptible to cardiovascular disease is due to the changes that occur in the heart as you age. While not all changes take place the same way for everyone, there are a few that are seemingly inevitable.
Heart walls thicken. As the heart walls thicken, the flow of blood is obstructed.
Blood vessels lose flexibility. When your blood vessels become less flexible, it becomes even more difficult for blood to travel.
Slower heart rate. As you age, your heart rate also slows down. As this happens, your systolic blood pressure rises as it tries to give your body the oxygenated blood that it needs.
Heart muscle loses strength. A weaker heart causes your heart to work harder to do its job.
As these changes advance as you grow older, the heart becomes less and less efficient at its job.
Aside from the age-related issues that directly affect the heart, there are also other indirect factors that play a role in heart health. Factors that are particularly relevant to the senior community include illness, infection, injuries and certain medications.
Add a few risk factors to the mix such as smoking, type II diabetes, poor diet, and obesity to a seniors lifestyle mix and you have created a powerful concoction to attract heart disease.
Secret Ingredient: Omega-3
When it comes to heart health, salmon is one of the top recommended foods. The primary reason salmon is so highly favored is that it is high in omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon have been shown to help lower the risk of arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and help prevent atherosclerosis (the plaque buildup). Omega-3s also have been shown to lower triglycerides. All three of these health-promoting factors are particularly helpful to seniors. If you are not a fan of salmon you could also opt for other forms of fish such as tuna, trout, sardines, and mackerel.
Secret Ingredient: Polyphenols
Berries are great for a healthy heart for many reasons. They are full of polyphenols. Polyphenols are antioxidants that have been shown to decrease blood pressure and dilate blood vessels, both critical for senior citizens. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries are all great choices.
Key Ingredient: Fiber
Nuts are another food category that promotes good heart health. Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios are all packed with soluble fiber (the heart-healthy kind). Walnuts are particularly beneficial because they contain a type of polyunsaturated fat called alpha-linolenic acid. This aloha-linoleic acid is anti-inflammatory in nature and has been shown to actually reduce plaque build up in the arteries.
Secret Ingredient: Beta-glucan
Oatmeal influences heart health because of the type of fiber that it contains known as beta-glucan. Beta-glucan has been shown to lower LDL Cholesterol (the bad kind). Not a fan of oatmeal? You can also find beta-glucan in barley, shiitake mushrooms, and seaweed.
Secret Ingredient: Monosaturated Fats
Avocados have a great reputation for providing heart-healthy fats. They are rich in monosaturated fats which have been shown to lower some of the heart disease risk factors including cholesterol. More specifically, they help lower LDL while raising HDL. Avocados are also high in antioxidants and potassium.
Secret Ingredient: Cacao
Yes, you read that right. Dark chocolate can promote heart health. Chocolate is made from the cacao plant which is rich in flavanols. Flavanols are shown to lower blood pressure and prevent blood clots. Both issues are prevalent among the senior community.
Heart-Healthy Diet Tips
Eating a heart-healthy diet can still be a challenge. Here are some tips we have found particularly useful.
You don’t have to sacrifice flavor. Use herbs and spices as opposed to salt and fat to bring your food to life.
Meet your fruit and vegetable intake goals. Incorporate fruits and veggies into every meal and snack to make sure you get enough.
Reduce your intake of processed foods. Reducing, or better yet eliminating processed food from your diet can greatly impact your heart health. Processed foods are often filled with sodium.
Cook at home. Making an effort to cook more may be one of the best decisions you can make for your heart. Cooking at homes allows you to have full control over what you put in your foods.
Eating a heart-healthy diet can make the world of a difference when trying to improve the health of your heart. And while genetics do play a role in heart-health, their part is only a fraction of the equation. You should focus on aspects that you DO have control over and the diet you choose to consume is a great place to start. By adopting a heart-healthy diet and other healthy lifestyle behaviors such as exercise, your genetics don’t stand a chance.
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“What to Include in a Heart-Healthy Diet,” by Ashley LeVine, Amada Blog Contributor.
*Remember to consult a doctor before changing your diet.