I believe in an individual approach when it comes to health. But some basic tenets are worth paying attention to regarding heart healthy aging.
A heart healthy approach to aging makes sense because it’s no longer war, famine, and infectious diseases responsible for most deaths.
For those of you reading this, you are likely more susceptible to cardiovascular risk factors and disease:
- high blood pressure
- nerve damage from ischemia
- kidney damage from hypertension
- dementia from poor cerebral blood flow
- heart attacks
- ischemic amputations
How to Design a Heart Healthy Aging Model
Perfection is the enemy of progress when it comes to health. Every step you take in the right direction will improve your health.
Much like investing, multiple such behavioral changes will have compounding effects. Let’s keep that in mind before reading the list below.
Thank you to Dr. Weil for the inspiration for this list.
1. Maintain a Healthy Activity Level
Staying active has, time and time again, proven protective. From how our muscles metabolize nutrients to healthy bones to how our heart responds to stress, being active is protective and healing in many ways.
Our lives are ever more sedentary, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get up from time to time. We can perform stretches and go for a walk.
The term exercise doesn’t capture things quite as well. People who are marathon runners aren’t necessarily “healthier” than those who remain active by going for walks or performing active house chores.
How active do you need to be?
It depends on your risk factors and what you’re capable of doing based on where you are on your heart health journey.
2. Minimize Your Body’s Inflammation
Inflammation is something our bodies are great at managing and repairing the damage from it. But there is a limit to how much our bodies can cope with.
Recognizing the signs of inflammation is perhaps the toughest challenge. This takes an astute clinician and practice on your part to recognize the signs.
And it’s often our diets that can help decrease the effects of inflammation on our cardiovascular and metabolic systems.
What’s a good diet?
Each person will need an individualized approach to their diet. But almost all sides agree that a minimally processed diet with high nutrient content and a low pesticide content will get you there 90% of the way.
3. Manage Your Stress
I don’t know how to avoid stress and wouldn’t advise my patients to search for the holy grail of a stress-free life.
Coping with stress or managing stress is more valuable when aiming to age in a heart healthy manner.
How much stress is too much?
There are some serum markers for inflammation, but it’s not advisable nor feasible to monitor inflammation in such a way.
If you are feeling stressed or suffering consequences from your lifestyle, it’s fair to say that uncompensated or unmanaged stress is present.
4. Allow Your Body & Mind to Recuperate
The human body and the mind need to recover from damage, infection, hard work, and other day-to-day microtraumas.
Restful nightly sleep is quite important. Trying to catch up after many sleepless nights is as inefficient as working out only on the weekends.
Sleep & rest are important aspects of allowing our bodies to recover and recuperate. That’s why this is #4 on the list for heart healthy aging.
5. Know Your Heart Health Risks
My father had a heart attack in his 70s and needed multiple stents. Family history is an important risk factor.
I also went through medical school and had a highly processed diet when I was younger. Our past medical history is also important when assessing our overall risk.
Screening tests such as cholesterol levels, blood pressure, coronary calcium scores, body mass index, heart rate variability, and your resting heart rate are important heart health risk factors as well.
What’s your risk?
6. Build a Social Network and Form Meaningful Connections
I have a good support system in my life. There are people whom I can reach out to and who care about me. I enjoy physical touch from loved ones and don’t feel alone.
For most of us a human network is necessary for this. For others they can get this same social connection from animals, trees, and life all around us.
To age with a healthy heart it’s important to feel supported and cater to some of the evolutionary chemicals in our body which are released from interacting with others.
7. Work With Your Body Instead of Resisting it
Aging, as many say, isn’t for the faint of heart. Certain human characteristics are honed by aging, and certain senses become dull.
I can’t do certain exercises nor expend the same energy as when I was 25. But I have the patience of someone in the mid-40s, which is a huge plus.
Aging is normal, and the weakening of certain organs is also normal. But disease is not normal. Learning to enjoy the dance of old age is better than resisting the aging process.