Like the rest of your body, your heart changes as you age: the valves and arteries thicken and may become stiffer, and the heart muscle cells may degenerate slightly. While these changes can cause the heart to work harder, they don’t necessarily mean you’re doomed to develop cardiovascular disease.
In fact, studies suggest that people who live a heart-healthy lifestyle can lower their risk of cardiovascular disease by up to 80%, regardless of their age or family history. My father suffered a heart attack at the age of 49, so for a long time I focused on keeping my own heart in top shape. The following strategies helped me do that.
Kick bad to use
You’ve heard it before, but it’s critically important: One of the most important steps you can take for better health, including heart health, is not to smoke and to quit if you do. Nicotine damages the heart and artery walls, and quitting — even later in life — may help reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke. Similarly, excessive alcohol consumption can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart failure and stroke, so keep your consumption moderate if you drink.
Cover the base
High blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes can all increase your risk of cardiovascular disease. Extra pounds can also put a strain on the heart. Keep track of doctor visits, manage chronic conditions, and do what you can through diet and exercise to maintain a healthy weight.
Stay active throughout life
Physical activity not only helps prevent weight gain, but it also independently helps protect against cardiovascular disease. For example, a recent study published in BMJ heart found that older men who exercised regularly had a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease than their less active peers. Other research has found similar results in women. I recommend doing at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (such as brisk walking) most days of the week.
Eat before your heart
Since cardiovascular disease appears to have an inflammatory component, it is best to follow an anti-inflammatory diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fatty cold-water fish (such as salmon and sardines) and low in refined carbohydrates as well as fast food, junk food and processed foods.
Chronic stress — long-term worries about health, money, or relationships, for example — can wreak havoc on your heart. Over time, this can lead to high blood pressure and thus cardiovascular disease. Stress can also contribute to unhealthy eating patterns, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and other habits that can damage the heart. Find a relaxation technique that you can sustain, such as breathwork, meditation, or yoga, and practice it regularly to help manage tension.