Read Time: 6 minutes, 11 seconds
Taking your first sip of coffee, you think about the warmth of the mug in your hands, how the sunlight beaming through the window warms your cheek. Savoring the delicious liquid mixture of confidence and energy, you look across the table at your mother.
This is part of your Saturday routine, your weekly talks with her. But something doesn’t seem right. You no longer feel the warmth of your mug, notice the sun shining on your face, or the taste of your coffee.
All you know is she isn’t making sense. You notice the side of her face drooping and her arm hanging differently. You call 9-1-1. An ambulance swoops in and takes her to the nearest hospital. STAT.
Surrounded by family and friends, you hear the verdict. Your mother, the woman who raised you and taught you strength, will spend the next few days, possibly weeks in a hospital bed. Or maybe it’s your father. The conqueror of crossword puzzles, the one who taught you how to throw a football and to stand up to a bully.
The silent culprit, cardiovascular disease1 (CVD).
Your Beating Heart
Every day, 10,000 people turn 65. Every day, 10,000 people discover they are at a greater risk for heart disease, heart attacks2, strokes3, and more. By 2030, 1 in 5 people in the U.S. will be 65 or older. Over the years, the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association has been working to educate Americans about the prevalence of CVD.
The number one cause of death in the United States, CVD claims the lives of 1 in 3 people each year. But through preventive actions and self-care, it can be treated and even prevented.
So, what is CVD and how did it find its place as our country’s grim reaper? To understand the answer, we must go back to the beginning and look at the organ that started it all.
Roughly the size of a fist, the heart is what keeps our bodies moving. So, it should come as no surprise that as we age, so does our heart and every cog and screw that keeps it pumping.
From the septum to the aorta, from the right ventricle to the left, every piece of the heart is instrumental in supplying oxygen-rich blood to our bodies. As we age, arteries can harden, plaque can build up in the blood vessels, the heart’s chambers can grow. All of these can limit and slow the flow of blood to the lungs where it picks up oxygen before taking oxygen-rich blood to the rest of our body. As we get older, our hearts don’t beat as fast as they once did when we were younger.
While some aspects of our aging heart are out of our control, there are things we can do to reduce our heart’s age.
Young at Heart
I know what you’re thinking, “Reduce the age of my heart? Isn’t my heart as old as I am?” To an extent, yes. For most people, you have the same heart you were born with, but there is such a thing as heart age. Learning your heart age and what you do with that information can impact your risk of a heart attack or stroke.
Many people in the U.S. have a heart age 5 to 7 years older than themselves. Your heart age reflects the quality of your heart and blood vessels based on certain risk factors. These factors include blood pressure, smoking, and more. The good news is, changing your lifestyle for the better is a way to improve your heart’s age, reducing your risks of heart attacks or strokes.
How’s Your Heart?
What does this actually look like, turning back the clock on your heart’s age? Well, the first thing you must know is to not get discouraged. Don’t let the aforementioned list of risk factors overwhelm you, especially because of the elusive “and more.” Every goal is attainable if approached the right way.
Start small. Pick one or two aspects of your life that you want to improve upon first. Once you feel like you’re making progress, then you can start working on others.
Risk factors you can change:
- Smoking and Alcohol Consumption
- Blood Pressure and Cholesterol Levels
- Physical Activity
The benefits of smoking cessation begin as quickly as 20 minutes after your last cigarette. The risk of heart attack decreases within 2 weeks – 3 months, and the risk of stroke is reduced within 2 – 5 years. Within 15 years of quitting, your risk of CVD is the equivalent of a non-smoker.
Risk factors you can’t change are your actual age and family medical history, along with certain medical procedures like chemotherapy or radiation.
Although a younger heart age and a healthier lifestyle can reduce your risk of heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes, it is still important to know the symptoms.
We’ve all heard about the “magic hour.” Getting medical attention within the first hour of showing signs of a heart attack or stroke is crucial to survival and reversing the effects.
It’s also important to know heart disease is one of those tricky health conditions that doesn’t always show symptoms early on, so regular visits with your primary care physician (PCP) are instrumental in catching CVD early. When you see your PCP, take advantage of the opportunity to ask important questions about heart disease, your risk factors, and what you can do. If you don’t have a PCP, CareLink can help you find one.
The signs and symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Lightheadedness or Dizziness
- Headaches, nausea, or vomiting
- Tiredness, fatigue, or limited ability to exercise
- Pain, numbness, or tingling in the jaw, neck, shoulders, back, or arms
- Swelling in the neck, stomach, legs, or feet
If you believe you or a loved one is having a heart attack, stroke, or going into heart failure, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Where does CareLink come into play?
Being in Central Arkansas for 40 years, we have spent countless hours caring for older people who experienced heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. We’ve helped family caregivers prepare for the difficult journey ahead through training, resources, and counseling. We’ve comforted family members and given them peace of mind by being there for their older loved ones following a heart attack or stroke.
- Our Meals on Wheels program delivers heart-healthy lunches to homebound loved ones with dietician-approved items
- Our fitness and wellness center offers older people options for physical activity through classes like Zumba and tai chi
- Through partnerships with various senior centers in the region, we’ve installed blood pressure machines to help people track their blood pressure daily
- We offer free classes on diabetes management as part of the Diabetes Empowerment and Education Program, and a class to help manage pain
To find out how CareLink can help you and your older loved ones turn back the clock on aging hearts, call us at 501.372.5300, toll-free at 800.482.6359, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1Heart disease happens when the heart can’t pump enough blood for the body.
2Hear attacks occur when the flow of oxygen-rich blood from one of the main coronary arteries can’t get oxygen to the rest of the heart.
3Strokes are the result of a portion of the brain not receiving oxygen-rich blood from a blockage.