Heart disease affects over one in three Americans, including 85% of people over the age of 80. As we age, it is crucial to take control of heart health in order to decrease the risk of heart disease. Women are particularly at an increased risk of having heart disease misdiagnosed or mistreated, as they are twice as likely to receive the wrong initial diagnosis after a heart attack. It is important to remember that the heart is a muscle! In order for the muscle to stay strong and healthy, it needs exercise and movement. We have to use it!
How Exercise Decreases Risk of Heart Disease
Exercise as we age is crucial in order to decrease our risk of heart disease, particularly for women. Exercise decreases the risk of developing high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and helps weight control. The increase in muscle and the added blood flow are beneficial for the blood sugar balance and the body’s utilization of insulin. Balancing insulin is crucial as it prevents metabolic syndrome and the inflammation associated with it. This also helps to prevent one of the underlying causes of heart disease. Exercise increases circulation and improves our blood flow to all the organs including the brain. Exercise helps to keep our weight managed as well which helps to keep the blood pressure lower and the blood sugar balanced. There is really no downside to exercise. It only has to be modified to be safe if you have any underlying health issues or body issues.
Heart Health Benefits of Exercise
A good exercise program can also help decrease fatigue and shortness of breath. This will enable one to maintain their activities of daily living and the sports that they enjoy. So not only does exercise after age of 50 help decrease the risk of heart disease, but it also improves quality of life. Of course, age related heart changes may still occur, such as arrhythmias, lipid profile changes, and insulin sensitivity, but these can be delayed or sometimes prevented by staying active. Lastly, exercise helps to reduce stress which is correlated to heart issues. Movement is one of the best things for anxiety and depression and stress, all of which can be underlying triggers for heart disease. Flexibility which comes from movement, stretching and yoga keeps flexibility in the organs and the mind. Exercising in nature helps to improve oxygenation of our blood and heart because plants exhale oxygen, which is the gas that is necessary for our health.
Getting Started with an Evaluation
As for heart healthy exercise after age 50, start after having a full medical check-up. If there are any medical issues, an appropriate exercise routine will need to be developed and modified by a professional. I recommend going to a preventative cardiology practice that is covered by your insurance to get a general baseline heart workup and yearly check ups. Prevention of heart disease starts with understanding where you are at and that helps to define what you need to do in order to improve.
Seeing a general Orthopedic Doctor, Osteopathic Doctor or Chiropractor is essential for evaluating the balance and health of the spine and the joints. These doctors may recommend certain exercises and ask you to limit others based on your structural situation.
Components of a Heart Healthy Exercise Program:
Aerobics and Walking
A great place to start is with a walking program, or any gentle aerobic exercise that increases the heart rate. If you live in a city, walking from place to place and running errands is excellent for getting fitness in your general life routine. Try visiting a friend and going for walks together. Or perhaps you can get a treadmill or stationary bike and get fitness while you are watching your favorite TV Show. Once you have a good handle on walking it is fine to go to a more advanced aerobic exercise as long as there are no orthopedic issues. Add low impact jogging, hiking, aerobic exercise classes, or dance fitness classes.
Strength Training for a Healthy Heart
Resistance training also has heart healthy benefits. It increases blood flow and may lead to longer lasting blood pressure control. It helps to increase muscle mass which will help in weight control. The resistance or strength training program should include exercises that strengthen every major muscle group. This would include, squats, lunges, leg lifts, planks, push-ups and numerous core-strengthening exercises. Strength training can be done with machines in gyms or with light weights at home.
Stretching and Yoga
Stretching and gentle yoga help to restore flexibility to the muscles, and this helps to reduce chances of Injury. It helps the muscles return to their resting state and cleans the lactic acid and toxins out of the muscles. Stretching and yoga are also great for stress reduction and calming the nervous system.
Prevention is Key
Lifestyle changes and exercises can prevent 80% of heart attack and stroke events. Women over 50 can empower themselves to prevent not only heart disease but many other diseases with diet changes, lifestyle changes, and exercise. Movement and flexibility are keys to longevity.
Keep on moving and enjoy the adventure of exercise for a healthy heart!
xox, Dr. G