Statistics show heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women past age 60. So it's clear they need to be aware and proactive to prolong their health and lives. That means being aware of coronary artery disease, in which the arteries that deliver blood to the heart become narrowed and/or blocked.
"Boomers are reaching the age where heart disease has significant morbidity and mortality rates," said Kevin Roesch, Franciscan Health administrative director of cardiovascular services. "Whatever steps we can take to prevent or lessen the effects of heart disease are important."
Most importantly, if you smoke, stop. Or get help stopping.
"Smokers dramatically increase their risks. Also diet and exercise are important factors in helping to prevent Type 2 diabetes. Diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity – all are risk factors for coronary artery disease that can be impacted by lifestyle changes," Roesch said.
Living with stress is another factor. "We live in a society that tends to have more heart disease that can be caused by diet and lifestyle," Roesch said, adding stress modification measures are important, as is being aware of plaque buildup in the blood that can begin as young as age 19.
Roesch said proper diet can prevent accumulation, since plaque in the blood is caused by inflammation, which is prompted by too much sugar and/or salt that also can cause high blood pressure, Roesch said.
Another major concern affecting over an estimated 2.5 to 6.1 million Americans and projected to grow substantially over the next few years is atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm which may lead to other cardiovascular issues such as strokes and heart failure. Maintaining proper blood pressure, weight and normal blood sugar levels can help to prevent atrial fibrillation.
According to experts from the Pritikin Longevity Center, an ideal salt intake would be limiting sodium intake to 1,500 mg a day. One way to do this is the "1-to-1 rule" which is not to eat foods where the sodium intake exceeds the calorie intake.
Roesch also stressed the importance of not being sedentary, of getting up and moving - exercising as much possible.
"As people age, orthopedics issues and arthritis can limit mobility. You don't have to exercise two hours straight, but don't sit for more than an hour at a time, if possible; get up and walk around, do two or three flights of stairs. Walking in water also is good; swimming by far is one of the best exercises," Roesch said, adding yoga and meditation help to reduce stress and can be another beneficial addition to daily routines.
Likewise, he recommended use of such heart-related wearable devices as health watches and devices with pedometers that track daily steps. Many of these can incorporate social media so that you can track progress, along with friends and family.
Cardiovascular screenings also can be a valuable tool to help alert someone about their risk factors. The results of the screenings can help you understand where you are in regard to being prone to developing heart disease.
Some of the screenings may include cholesterol checks, blood pressure checks, quick-look ultrasound scans of the heart or major blood vessels and quick CT scans to look for calcium build up in the coronary arteries.
Today, the exposure to radiation with CT scans has been remarkably reduced. Calcium build-up is a sign that plaque may be forming in one of the three major coronary arteries.
Franciscan Health offers the latest technology in heart and vascular screenings to identify potential problems before they become serious. Screenings are offered from $49 to $99, depending on the scope of the test. For more information on heart and vascular services at Franciscan Health, visit FranciscanHealth.org/Heart.
By Bill Bero
Media Relations Manager, Northern Indiana Division