Taking Care of Your Heart in Your 40s, 50s and 60s

Do you remember how you didn’t really think about your heart in your 20s? Maybe you only noticed it when you fell in (or out of) love, or when it pounded from dancing the night away or on a long, hilly bike ride on a beautiful fall day.

I didn’t consciously stay fit and trim to keep my heart healthy then — I did it to look good. Thirty years later, a lot has changed. With maturity and a stronger self-esteem, just looking good isn’t the priority anymore; it’s keeping that unseen heart muscle fit and ticking for as long as possible.

Healthy habits are crucial for your heart during the middle-age decades. Whatever decade you’re in, take some simple steps to show your heart a lot of love:

Get your annual physical to gauge if you’re at risk for heart disease. Your weight, heartbeat, blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, family history, stress and mental well-being all play a role. Know your risk and heed your doctor’s advice if you need to start getting back to an optimal state.

Don’t smoke. Enroll in a smoking cessation program if you want to quit, but can’t. If you’re a Blue Care Network member, you can get coaching through our program: Tobacco Cessation Coaching, powered by WebMD®.
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Keep moving. This is an important heart-health-improvement factor, but can be the biggest challenge for folks who’ve fallen off the physical fitness wagon in their 30s and beyond. (Guilty as charged.) As a Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan member, who’s also 50, I took advantage of these Blue365® member discounts to climb back on the wagon:

  • Purchasing and using a FitBit® tracker helped me get moving more often. At first, my goal was 4,000 steps, then it quickly increased to 6,000 and now my daily goal is 7,000 steps. Having that gauge helps you realize that it’s not as hard as it seems.
  • Signing up for a Fitness Your Way™ gym membership and committing to lifting weights and doing cardio at least two times per week has helped me lower my blood pressure, cholesterol and weight a little bit.

Shifting from a sedentary lifestyle to a healthier one, switching to a lower dose of blood pressure medicine, making it to the gym at 6 a.m. and booking 7,000 steps by 9:30 a.m. — are accomplishments that keep me on track. If I can do it, you can, too.

Eat heart-healthy foods. Avoid saturated and trans fats. Put avocado on toast or a sandwich instead of butter or mayonnaise. Pass on deep fried and fast foods. Use olive oil and vinegar on salads. Eat a lot of vegetables and fruits, fiber-rich whole grains, nuts, legumes and seeds. Dedicate one day a week to eat meals without meat. Or, try eating some meals without meat. When you eat meals with meat, choose oily fish (like salmon, trout or  herring) skinless poultry or the leanest cuts of red meat. Select lower-fat dairy products and skinless poultry. Limit sugar-sweetened beverages and sodium.

Here’s a decade-by-decade breakdown of what you can do to maintain or improve your heart health: 

40s: You’ll start noticing a lot of changes in your body, skin and energy levels. Everything you do for a healthy heart, helps you fend off all the other aspects of aging.   

  • Eat a healthy diet and get regular physical activity. Your metabolism drops in this decade, which makes it harder to manage your weight. Keeping (or getting) your weight, cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy levels now will make it a lot easier to manage in your 50s and 60s.
  • Get heart health screenings and share any family heart disease history with your doctor.
  • Know your numbers and what they mean to keep heart disease at bay.
  • Manage stress. It releases the hormone cortisol into your body, which causes your blood pressure and body fat to increase — not good for your heart. Regularly practicing relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, listening to music, taking up a hobby, going on a hike or enjoying time with friends for a good laugh are great ways to get one’s stress levels and blood pressure in check.
  • Address snoring. Many adults have at least mild sleep apnea. Untreated sleep apnea can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease. Getting a sleep test is a lot easier than you think it is, so don’t put it off. Getting quality sleep every night does wonders for your heart and overall health.

50s: Continue your 40s regimen. Love your heart, love yourself and take these extra steps:

  • Know the warning signs of a heart attack. Shortness of breath, unexplained fatigue, pain, pressure or a squeezing sensation in the lower chest can all be signs of heart problems. Many people who have heart attacks may begin experiencing symptoms as early as six weeks prior to the event. Gastrointestinal symptoms can easily be mistaken as nausea or a stomach ache. Symptoms for women are often different than symptoms for men.
  • Lower your risk and follow your treatment plan. If you’ve been diagnosed with conditions that increase your risk of heart disease (like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes), follow your doctor’s advice, take your prescribed medications and embrace lifestyle changes that can help improve your health.

60s: In these years, your risk for heart disease increases. Again, build on the practices you’ve started in your 40s, continued through your 50s, and:

  • Watch your weight, blood pressure and cholesterol numbers closely.
  • Manage any health problems that arise.
  • Continue eating a heart-healthy diet and exercising.
  • Get an ankle-brachial index test. It’s a simple test you can get during an exam that helps diagnose if plaque has built up in the leg arteries — a condition known as peripheral artery disease.
  • Commit the warning signs of a heart attack to memory.

Source: How to Help Prevent Heart Disease at Any Age, American Heart Association

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Photo credit: Fred Froese

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