10 Ways to Outsmart Heart Disease for Seniors and Family Caregivers

For years we’ve heard we should be reducing the amount of fat in our diets.

Your senior loved one’s healthcare team may have told them to change their eating habits for their health.

Maybe yours has too!

More recently, we are told how important it is to reduce the amount of saturated fat we eat.

Did you know that this may not be enough?

Not only reducing the overall fat in our diet but also which foods we replace the fat with may be just as important.

Diet and other lifestyle factors can help us and our seniors reduce our heart disease risk.

Heart Disease – The Leading Cause of Death

Most of us know or have family members that have heart disease. Your senior loved one may be diagnosed with and trying to manage heart disease.

Many of us know someone who has had a heart attack that changed — or ended — their life.

Heart disease facts are astounding, especially when we think that much of it is largely preventable with lifestyle changes.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year – 1 in every 4 deaths.
  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women.
  • Every year about 735,000 Americans have a heart attack.
  • While 92% of people surveyed knew that chest pain is a warning sign for a heart attack, only 27% knew all the other warning signs or to call 911.

Here is the list of warning signs of a heart attack:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Upper body pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, jaw, or upper stomach
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea, lightheadedness, or cold sweats

Achieving Heart Health

New research shows that there are 10 ways we all can reduce our risk of heart disease and all 10 ways are achievable!

This is true for those at all ages. Even senior adults can make positive changes in their heart health and blood lipid values when they make small changes to their diet and lifestyle.

Family caregivers can help their seniors make these changes:

  1. Increase intake of fats coming from polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat sources. Don’t just reduce the saturated fat but substitute it with poly/monounsaturated forms.  We want to control the overall amount of fat, but the type of fat is key too. This will decrease LDL 10% for every 5% change in fat intake.
  2. Include fat sources that are high in Omega 3 and Omega 6 fatty acids to achieve a balance for optimum anti-inflammatory benefits. The goal is 1-2 grams/day from fatty fish, fish oil, canola oil, flaxseed, and nuts.
  3. Increase intake of nuts; any nut will do. Eat 2 oz/day, 5 days a week for best results. We can eat them as snacks or add them to other items in meals.
  4. Include foods rich in plant stanols and sterols. These compounds will lower LDL by allowing it to combine with bile to be excreted in the intestines. 2-3 Tablespoons each day are needed. Some foods have additional stanols/sterols added to them, look for hearth healthy labels. Natural sources include vegetable oil, nuts, legumes and fruits.
  5. Eat more soy containing foods including soy milk, soybeans, tofu, soy nuts and soybeans.  Intake of soy has been shown to sharply reduce LDL in the blood.
  6. Eat more fiber. We have heard this a lot, but have not been adding it to our menus. Intake is recommended at 38 grams/day for men and 25 grams/day for women. Be sure to include soluble sources of fiber such as oats, psyllium, and whole grains.
  7. Drink more deep purple wine and grape juice. The poylphenols in this deep purple fruit act to improve heart health. 1-2 cups of deep purple juice (100% juice) or 4 oz dark purple wine such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Petite Sirah each day.
  8. Drink more tea, black or green, to improve circulation. Green tea can also lower triglycerides. Drink 1-3 cups/day.
  9. Add garlic to foods. Crush or grind fresh garlic to get the best benefit. Add 1-3 cloves/day.
  10. Indulge in chocolate. Not just any chocolate, however. Cocoa that has not been processed with alkali such as Dutch processed. Add 2 Tablespoons/day.

Lifestyle Habits Benefit Heart Disease

While these are changes we can make in our diets, we also need to be aware of other lifestyle changes that will make a positive impact on our heart health.

Achieving heart health is a jigsaw puzzle, with diet merely one piece of the puzzle.

The other pieces that will reduce the risk of heart disease and possible heart attack include:

  1. Becoming physically active. We all know that getting moving is important for our overall health but many of us continue to need reminders to get active. You don’t have to go the gym and workout like a pro. You will get the benefits if you take a brisk walk, play golf, ride a bike, swim some laps or play with the kids and grandkids. Get up and get moving at an activity that you enjoy and will keep doing is most important.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight. Eating right and getting physical can help you achieve this goal. Controlling the portions of the food you eat now will also help you manage your weight. Be aware of your BMI (body mass index) so that you know if your efforts are paying off.
  3. Quit smoking!
  4. Don’t overuse the salt shaker and select fresh, minimally processed foods that will help lower your salt intake. While there remains much controversy about how much is too much, cutting back on the excess sodium in our foods is something experts agree on.

When making lifestyle changes, especially in something as important as our diet, we all want to be sure the changes we make are making result in measurable improvements in our bodies.

Real, true decreases in our blood lipid values are vital to prevent heart disease. It is important to know the numbers and work with our healthcare professionals, including a dietitian, to keep your risk in check.

Good luck making these changes to improve your heart health!

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