Living 50 Plus

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Keep your heart running strong into your golden years

Heart health should be a concern for people of all ages, but especially so for men and women over 50. That's because, according to the American Heart Association, even men and women who are free of cardiovascular disease at age 50 are at a significant lifetime risk of developing the disease.

But heart disease does not have to be an accepted byproduct of aging. For example, a 2014 study published in the AHA journal Circulation found that maintaining or increasing physical activity after age 65 can improve the heart's well-being and lower risk of heart attack.

In addition to increasing physical activity as they age, older men and women who understand heart disease and learn to recognize its symptoms have a greater chance of minimizing its affects and lowering their risk of having a heart attack.

What are the symptoms of heart disease?

Heart disease is a blanket term used to describe a host of conditions, so symptoms vary depending on each individual condition. The following are some of the more widely known conditions and their symptoms:

• Hypertension: Also known as high blood pressure, hypertension is a largely symptomless form of heart disease. The AHA notes that the idea that hypertension produces symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, facial flushing, nervousness, and sweating is a misconception. Symptoms typically do not alert men and women to the presence of hypertension, highlighting the emphasis men and women should place on routine visits to the doctor's office, where their blood pressure can be taken.

• Heart attack: The symptoms of a heart attack are different than the symptoms of heart disease that may lead to heart attack. The former can be found by visiting www.heart.org. Signs that you may be heading toward a heart attack include undue fatigue, palpitations (the sensation that your heart is skipping a beat or beating too rapidly), dyspnea (difficulty or labored breathing), chest pain or discomfort from increased activity.

• Arrhythmia: Arrhythmia means your heartbeat is irregular, and men and women often mistakenly believe arrhythmia only afflicts those who already have been diagnosed with heart disease or have had a heart attack. But arrhythmia can affect even those men and women who have healthy hearts and no history of cardiovascular disease. Symptoms of arrhythmia can vary greatly, from a single premature beat to a series of premature beats that occur in rapid succession. Arrhythmia that lasts long enough to affect heart function may include symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, fatigue, dizziness, lightheadedness, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

How can I protect my heart?

Heart healthy habits take some effort, but men and women can protect their hearts regardless of their ages.

• Get sufficient exercise. At least 30 minutes of exercise per day can protect against disease.

• Quit smoking. Smoking increases your risk for a host of ailments, including heart disease. Quitting is a great way to start getting your heart and other parts of your body back on track.

• Include heart-healthy foods in your diet. A diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and low in cholesterol, salt and saturated fat promotes heart health.

• Don't drink alcohol to excess. Like smoking, drinking alcohol to excess can lead to a host of problems, such as high blood pressure, arrhythmia and high cholesterol, each of which increases your risk of heart disease.

• Lose weight. Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for heart disease. If you have already started to exercise daily and eat a more heart-healthy diet, then you're on your way to losing weight. Consult your physician if diet and exercise don't seem to be helping you to shed pounds.

Heart disease kills millions of people across the globe each year, many of whom are over 50. But men and women who learn about heart disease and how to reduce their risk stand a far greater chance of fighting the disease.