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Whether you plan to spend your retirement traveling, enjoying hobbies, or relaxing with loved ones, make sure to devote some time to your heart health. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States
“With advancements in medicine over past few years, life expectancy has increased, and 65 is no longer considered old,” says Georgios Lygouris, MD, a cardiologist with Allegheny Health Network. “If your goal is to live longer and healthier, it’s all about prevention — especially when it comes to your heart.”
Some cardiovascular risk factors, such as age or family history, are out of your control. But Dr. Lygouris says there are a number of ways to lower your risk of heart disease later in life. Follow these 6 steps to stay heart healthier in retirement:
For all people, the risk of cardiovascular disease goes up as your heart and blood vessels change with age. But age is only one piece of the puzzle. Other high-risk factors for heart disease include:
· Diabetes, which causes sugar to build up in the blood and results in a higher risk of death from heart disease.
· Family history, especially if members of your family were diagnosed with coronary artery disease before the age of 65.
· High blood pressure, which usually has no symptoms and can be lowered with lifestyle changes and medication.
· Obesity, which can lead to high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, and diabetes.
· Smoking, which damages the function of your heart and blood vessels.
· Unhealthy cholesterol levels, especially a high LDL (low-density lipoprotein) cholesterol level, can cause the heart’s arteries to narrow.
With extra time in retirement, try to make your annual wellness visit a priority. Medicare Part B covers yearly cardiovascular risk assessment appointments with your primary care provider. Medicare also pays for blood tests every five years to evaluate your glucose (sugar) and cholesterol levels.
Medicare Annual Wellness Visits also highlight additional measures, medications, or screenings you may need. According to Dr. Lygouris, you should only take a medication, including daily aspirin, if your physician prescribes it. Additional screenings might include a coronary calcium scan, which measures plaque in the arteries, or a screening ultrasound to check for an aneurysm or enlarged aorta (suggested for men age 65 to 75 who smoked at any point). That individualized care only comes from seeing your primary care provider regularly.
Dr. Lygouris advises seniors to follow Medicare’s vaccine recommendations. The immunizations for influenza and pneumococcal (a bacterial infection that may lead to pneumonia) are especially important. “The stress that is put on the heart from any influenza infection or pneumococcal can bring out underlying heart disease that is otherwise well-controlled,” Dr. Lygouris says. “Getting your vaccines can remove that risk.”
Diet influences your cardiac health. To avoid high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity, Dr. Lygouris recommends a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. To stay heart healthy, some dietary rules to consider include:
· Limit saturated fats
· Avoid trans fats
· Avoid fried food
· Restrict sodium (salt) intake
· Limit alcohol consumption (two drinks a day for men and one for women)
· Choose lean meats
Cardiovascular exercise is beneficial for heart health. The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity. Dr. Lygouris suggests walking as a great way to meet your daily exercise goals.
If retirement has you planning a more vigorous exercise regimen, take precaution before starting a new program. “For anyone more than 40 years old who’s planning to go from a sedentary lifestyle to aggressive exercise program, check with your doctor first,” Dr. Lygouris says. “Your primary care provider may suggest a cardiac stress test to be safe.”
Even if you’ve been proactive about your heart health, it’s important to pay attention to your body. Dr. Lygouris says too many people attribute common signs of heart disease to old age. Those common signs include:
· Chest pain
· Shortness of breath when walking
· Difficulty breathing during rest or when lying in bed
· Leg tightness with walking
· Exhaustion with minimal activity
· Passing out
“Do not underestimate your symptoms,” Dr. Lygouris says. “Any unusual activity or change in symptoms warrants a visit to the physician.”