Preventing common health issues for over 50s: heart disease and stroke
Coronary heart disease and strokes are two forms of an umbrella condition called cardiovascular disease (CVD). CVD is a broad term that covers conditions attributed to fatty build-ups in the arteries. These fatty deposits gradually narrow the arteries and are the main causes of blood clots, heart attacks and strokes. These conditions are one of the largest causes of death and disability throughout the UK but with a healthy diet and lifestyle they can be very easily prevented, even if you’ve already been diagnosed with general CVD.
Take responsibility for your health
Your number one priority should always be to keep on top of your health and any existing conditions you may have. If you have diabetes, for example, your risk of CVD, heart disease and strokes is increased. Make sure you are informed and understand the risks associated with age and existing conditions, this might mean a few more trips to the doctor’s office but it always pays to be informed. Be sure that any medications you’re on are not going to put you in further danger of developing cardiovascular related conditions and stay on top of any changes in your health, or new side effects.
Stop smoking and try to avoid second-hand smoke
We are all well aware of the overwhelming evidence that smoking is a key cause of CVD, as well as various cancers. According to the British Heart Foundation, second hand tobacco smoke causes heart disease in non-smokers. You could unwittingly be exposing loved ones to this risk. Secondly, nicotine produces adrenaline which causes the heart to beat faster and work harder, causing an upsurge in blood pressure. There’s plenty of help and advice on how to do this on the NHS Smokefree website.
Keep an eye on your diet and limit your cholesterol
Healthy lifestyle choices go hand in hand with a healthy diet. Excessive calorie intake and abdominal obesity are major risk factors that add to a person’s likelihood of getting heart disease or having a stroke. This is because abdominal fat begins to accumulate in places that aren’t designed to store fat; around the pancreas, heart and other organs. This limits the oxygen flow to these organs causing parts of them to ‘die’, leading to issues like heart attacks. These fat deposits are called low-density lipids (LDL’s) which can clog arteries and make them less flexible.
There are two main types of lipoprotein which need monitoring in your diet: low-density lipids (LDLs), the bad cholesterol that your body needs less of, and high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) which work by absorbing cholesterol and carrying it back to the liver, flushing it from the body. High levels of HDL can mean a reduced risk of an individual suffering from heart disease or a stroke.
Following a diet that incorporates the tips below can greatly reduce your risk of CVD conditions.
Contrary to popular belief, your body still needs fat to function properly but it is important to avoid saturated and trans-fats and try to opt for oily fish, nuts and seeds instead. These will provide essential fats, such as Omega 3, which has a wealth of health benefits, and high-density lipids (HDLs) otherwise known as ‘good’ cholesterol.
Salt is a known raiser of blood pressure, a risk factor that we’ll discuss in more detail further in this post.
Sugar can cause a vicious cycle that could end up massively increasing your CVD risks. Excess sugar consumption could lead to obesity and diabetes, two conditions that cause a rise in CVD risk. Sugar has many guises and is often called sucrose, glucose, fructose, maltose, hydrolysed starch, or corn syrup. A good guide to check if you’re eating a high sugar diet is to check whether a food contains over 22.5g of sugar per 100g. If it does, chances are you need to cut down.
A diet that is high in fibre can decrease the absorption of LDLs or bad cholesterol in the body. This means less fatty build-up in the arteries and so less chance of clots.
• Fruit and Veg
The best way to pack in essential, cardiovascular loving nutrients, vitamins, minerals and anti-oxidants is to make sure you consume plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables each day.
Exercise regularly and watch your weight
We’ve already discussed the issues surrounding obesity and abdominal fat, and another way to cut these risk factors is to get plenty of exercise every day; the NHS recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity activity per day. This can be as simple as taking an exercise class or making sure to squeeze in 10,000 steps a day. Prolonged periods of inactivity can cause clotting, so exercise will help to keep your heart active and strong.
Cut down your alcohol intake
Some research has claimed that a glass of red wine a day can be beneficial to heart health due to the anti-oxidants and HDLs that it contains. However, this evidence is not conclusive and it’s best to limit your alcohol consumption to the NHS recommended units; for men and women, the limit is 14 units per week (6 pints of average strength beer or 10 small glasses of low strength wine).
Keep your blood pressure down
High blood pressure has been deemed a ‘silent killer’ because it often shows no external symptoms but has a major effect on cardiovascular health. High blood pressure, or hypertension, causes damage to the arteries and blood vessels which then leads to scarring. This scarring narrows the artery meaning build-ups and blood clots are much more likely. Keep your blood pressure at a healthy level by managing stress, limiting salt intake and following the other guidelines in this article.
Heart disease and strokes are more likely to happen as we age but thankfully are easily preventable. Following these tips will greatly decrease your chances of getting CVD-related conditions and ensure your long-term health. If you’re worried about CVD, take a look at Stop the clot and Clever tips for cutting your cholesterol, or go and chat to your GP. You might also be interested in our other pieces on Over 50s health:
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