Aging and Heart Health

By the American Heart Association 

In Your Forties

If heart health has not been a priority, don’t worry. Healthy choices you make now can strengthen your heart for the long haul. Understand why you need to make lifestyle changes and have the confidence to make them, then tackle them one at a time. “Each success makes you more confident to take on the next one,” says Richard Stein, MD, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine, who is also an American Heart Association volunteer. “There’s no one I know who said, ‘I felt better being sedentary. I felt better eating a terrible diet.’”

  • Watch Your Weight. In your forties your metabolism starts slowing down. But you can avoid weight gain by following a heart-healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise. The trick is to find a workout routine you enjoy. If you need motivation to get moving, find a workout buddy or join American Heart Association Walking Paths.
  • Have Your Blood Sugar Level Checked. In addition to blood pressure checks and other heart-health screenings, you should have a fasting blood glucose test by the time you are 45. This first test serves as a baseline for future tests, which you should have every three years. Testing may be done earlier or more often if you are overweight, diabetic, or at risk of becoming diabetic.
  • Do Not Brush Off Snoring. Listen to your sleeping partner’s complaints about your snoring. One in five adults has at least mild sleep apnea, a condition that causes pauses in breathing during sleep. If not properly treated, sleep apnea can contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke.

In Your Fifties

Unlike the emergence of wrinkles and gray hair, what you cannot see as you get older is the impact of aging on your heart. So, starting in your fifties, you need to take extra steps.

  • Eat A Healthy Diet. It is easy to slip into some unhealthy eating habits, so refresh your habits by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, fish (preferably oily fish at least twice per week), nuts, legumes, and seeds—and try eating some meals without meat.
  • Learn The Warning Signs Of A Heart Attack And Stroke. Now is the time to get savvy about symptoms. Not everyone experiences sudden numbness with a stroke or severe chest pain with a heart attack. And heart attack symptoms in women can be different than in men.
  • Follow Your Treatment Plan. By now you may have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or other conditions that increase your risk of heart disease or stroke. Lower your risk by following your prescribed treatment plan, including medications and lifestyle and diet changes.

In Your Sixties And Beyond

With age comes an increased risk for heart disease. Your blood pressure, cholesterol, and other heart-related numbers tend to rise. Watching your numbers closely and managing any health problems— along with the requisite healthy eating and exercise—can help you live longer and better.

  • Have An Ankle-Brachial Index Test. Starting in your sixties, an ankle-brachial index test should be done every one to two years as part of a physical exam. The test assesses the pulses in the feet to help diagnose peripheral artery disease, a lesser-known cardiovascular disease in which plaque builds up in the leg arteries.
  • Watch Your Weight. Your body burns fewer calories as you get older. Excess weight causes your heart to work harder and increases the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and high cholesterol. Exercising regularly and eating smaller portions of nutrient-rich foods may help you maintain a healthy weight.
  • Know The Warning Signs Of A Heart Attack And Stroke. Heart attack symptoms in women can be different than in men. Knowing when you are having a heart attack or stroke means you are more likely to get immediate help. Quick treatment can save your life and prevent serious disability.

Adapted and reprinted with permission from the American Heart Association.