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    Heart health

    Heart health tips by the decade

    An Intermountain Health cardiologist shares how to keep your heart healthy

    An Intermountain Health cardiologist shares how to keep your heart healthy

    Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, causing about one in four deaths. The good news is that heart disease is largely preventable. There are actions you can take at every age to improve your heart health.

    “Maintaining a healthy heart is a lifelong commitment that evolves with each passing decade,” Kurt Spriggs, DO, an Intermountain Health cardiologist at St. Mary's Regional Hospital in Grand Junction, CO. “As we age, our bodies undergo various changes, and our lifestyles play a crucial role in determining cardiovascular health. Whether you're in your 20s, 40s, or beyond, there are heart-healthy habits you can adopt to improve your well-being.”

    To keep your heart in tip-top shape, follow this decade-by-decade guide:

    Birth to 10: Establish a foundation for good health

    1. Promote healthy eating: Introduce a variety of nutrient-rich foods. Choose label-free foods, like fresh fruits, vegetables, and unprocessed lean proteins. Swap out processed and sugary snacks for healthier alternatives such as dried fruits and nuts.
    2. Play for an hour a day: Set the stage for an active lifestyle by ensuring your children get an hour of play or exercise every day.
    3. Limit screen time: To prevent sedentary habits, encourage your child to limit their screen time to no more than an hour a day for children under the age of five and no more than two hours for older children.

    Teens: Build healthy habits

    1. Prioritize sufficient sleep: Ensure adolescents get at least seven hours of sleep each night to reduce the risk of obesity and heart disease.
    2. Avoid caffeine and energy drinks: Energy drinks have been linked to seizures, irregular heartbeat, heart failure, and even death in teens. The American Academy of Pediatrics says teens should skip energy drinks completely.
    3. Say no to smoking and vaping: Both habits pose serious threats to heart health. Smokers, especially those who start before age 15, face nearly triple the risk of early death from heart disease and stroke compared to non-smokers.

    20s: Take charge of your health

    1. Take care of your teeth and gums: Gum disease can double your risk of developing heart disease. Make sure to brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss every day. Also, visit your dentist every six months.
    2. Delve into your family history: Knowing your family’s health background and your genetic predisposition to diseases can provide you with a roadmap to your own well-being.
    3. Be mindful with alcohol: Excessive drinking is linked to potential heart problems, including high blood pressure and dehydration. Limit alcohol consumption and counterbalance each drink with a full glass of water.

    30s: Prioritize stress management

    1. Manage your stress: In your 30s, life takes on a new level of complexity as you juggle a family and a career. Left unchecked, stress can create inflammation in your body and cause high blood pressure. Practice stress-reducing activities such as yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.
    2. Schedule regular check-ups: Begin preventative screenings to monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. These screenings will establish a baseline for monitoring your cardiovascular health and provide early identification of a potential condition.
    3. Keep moving: It’s easy to drop onto the couch at the end of an exhausting workday, so make sure you have a reason to get up and move – especially if you’ve been sitting at a desk all day. Whether that means taking the dog for a walk, playing with the kids outside, or joining an exercise class, make sure you’re getting at least 30 minutes of activity three times a week. You may want to consider using fitness apps, smartwatches, or pedometers to track your daily steps, set goals, and monitor your progress.

    40s: Focus on prevention

    1. Step on the scale: This is the decade when metabolism takes a nosedive. Watch your weight and monitor your Body Mass Index. If it’s over 25, you are at greater risk for health problems. Prioritize healthy foods and physical activity.
    2. Monitor blood sugar levels: Keep an eye on your blood sugar levels, especially if you have a family history of diabetes. Elevated blood sugar levels can contribute to heart disease, so managing them is crucial.
    3. Stay hydrated: Maintain proper hydration by drinking an adequate amount of water. Dehydration can cause your blood to get thicker which strains the heart, so be sure to consistently replenish your fluids throughout the day. The Institute of Medicine recommends men drink 13 cups (104 ounces) of water every day. Women should consume 9 cups (72 ounces).

    50s: Nurture the health of your heart

    1. Listen to your body: Men and women experience heart disease differently. It’s important to learn the symptoms of a heart attack and what to watch for. Health issues such as shortness of breath, chest pain, unexplained fatigue, and heart palpitations should be checked out immediately.
    2. Continue monitoring your blood pressure and cholesterol: Regularly screen and manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Medications may be necessary. It’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s recommendations.
    3. Fine-tune your diet: As you age, intensify your commitment to heart health with a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, and antioxidants. Reduce your sodium intake if you consume more than 2,300 milligrams of sodium (salt) per day. That’s equivalent to one teaspoon of table salt.

    60s: Prioritize your well-being

    1. Take an aspirin a day: Heart attacks can happen at any age, but the risk skyrockets during your 60s. Check with your doctor about whether an aspirin a day could reduce your risk.
    2. Cultivate social connections: Retirement can be a lonely time for some, and research shows that loneliness is as bad for heart health as smoking. Volunteer, join a club, or take a class to establish social connections and maintain your emotional well-being.
    3. Create an emergency preparedness plan: Establish a plan for your loved ones that outlines the steps they should take in the event of an emergency that includes your medical history, a list of prescriptions, how to reach your healthcare providers, and the location of your preferred medical facility.

    70s: Maintain a healthy heart

    1. Stay active: Get at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise every week. Walking, balance exercises and resistance training with weights can make your heart stronger.
    2. Reduce your risk of a fall: Falls are the leading cause of injury in older adults. Abnormal heart rhythms, and low blood pressure are a few reasons why seniors with cardiovascular disease face an even greater risk for falls. Take measures to ensure your living environment is safe by removing tripping hazards and installing handrails.
    3. Practice proper medication management: Regularly review your medications with your healthcare provider to ensure they remain appropriate and effective.

    Caring for your heart is a lifelong journey

    Your heart deserves the best care at every age. It's never too early or too late to prioritize your heart health. By making informed choices, prioritizing physical activity, and promoting your overall well-being, you can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and enjoy a healthier, more vibrant life.

    Life can change in a heartbeat. Take the Healthy Heart quiz to assess your risk.

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