February is Heart Health Month, and there’s no better time for seniors to focus on supporting a healthy heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among American men and women — don’t let you or your loved one fall victim to this thoroughly preventable illness! Instead, use these tips to improve overall health and keep that ticker strong:
1. Make food your ally
As we age, our metabolism starts to slow down — even if we’re still exercising regularly. To keep from adding on pounds that put an extra stress on the heart, start eating slightly less food. To keep your heart strong, make sure the foods you’re eating are what doctors call “nutrient dense.” This means foods that are high in vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, lean proteins and/or complex carbohydrates, but low in calories.
As a rule of thumb, look for unprocessed foods, or foods that contain only one ingredient. In other words, choose fresh fruit over canned fruit, whole grains instead of refined flours, olive oil instead of butter. Keep nuts, fruits and raw veggies around for snacking, and make sure the majority of your meals are fresh-cooked rather than purchased in the frozen foods aisle.
2. Keep moving
Regular, gentle exercise is probably the best gift you can give to your heart. Whenever possible, make it cardio exercise — the kind that gets you breathing faster and gets your heart pumping. When you go for a walk, make your walk a brisk one for part of the time. If you enjoy swimming, try some water aerobics while you’re in the pool.
To promote good balance and better flexibility, check out a yoga or tai chi class. Many senior centers and park districts offer therapeutic classes designed for seniors, or even classes that take place mostly in chairs. Both yoga and tai chi pay special attention to the breathing process, and are wonderful ways to increase strength while lowering blood pressure.
3. Practice happiness
Research has begun to prove what common sense has told us for generations: there is a real connection between emotional stability and physical health, especially the health of the human heart. Emotional issues like stress, depression, and deep-seated fear can actually increase the chances of heart disease, so it’s important to cultivate a healthy mindset as well as a healthy body!
Studies show that seniors can keep their hearts healthy by practicing and perfecting the art of happiness. One attitude that seems to be crucial is gratitude. By spending just a few moments each day thinking of all the things in life that you’re grateful for, you can actually improve the rhythm of your heartbeat. Regular meditation and prayer are also beneficial for the heart.
By keeping laughter in their lives, seniors can also keep their hearts and minds healthy. Laughter is a great stress reducer that also stimulates your heart and lungs. And to avoid the destructive effects of isolation and depression, seek out the company of friends and family as much as possible. Join a book group, attend church regularly, or take a class — you’ll feel happier and stay healthier.