How to prioritise heart health as you age
Cardiovascular diseases (CVDs) are the leading cause of death across the world and an estimated 17.9 million people died from CVDs in 2019. Of these, 85% were due to heart attack and stroke1.
Positively, many cardiovascular diseases can be prevented. But this relies on individual action.
And while there are things we can do at any age to improve our heart health – whether it's choosing a healthy diet and/or being physically active – Dr Yassir Javaid, Clinical Director for Cardiology at Bupa UK, points towards some specific preventive actions we can follow as we move through our lives.
Protect your heart in your twenties
Heart health may not be a top consideration in your twenties, but looking after your heart from an early age can help put you ahead of the game, setting up healthy habits which will stand you in good stead for the future.
It’s important to know where you stand, even when you’re young. Do you know your weight, blood pressure, BMI and cholesterol level? Consult medical experts and take advantage of any health check-ups you’re offered – either through private medical cover or schemes provided by your workplace.
And it’s never too early or indeed too late to make healthy lifestyle choices. Dr Javaid comments: “If you picked up smoking as a teenager, then it’s time to quit. Even exposure to second-hand smoke poses a potentially serious health hazard – non-smokers are up to 30 percent more likely to develop heart disease from second-hand smoke exposure than those who don’t come into contact with it2”.
It’s also easier to stay active if you start exercising regularly at a young age. “Keep your workout routine interesting by trying new things and finding new activities you particularly enjoy.” says Dr Javaid.
Protect your heart in your thirties
It’s time to get acquainted with your family tree. If you have a family history of heart conditions, you may have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular diseases yourself, such as coronary heart disease, angina, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. But while that might sound scary, understanding the risks can help you to take preventive steps and to spot problems early.
And, while you can’t change your family history, you can reduce your risk of developing heart and circulatory diseases by being a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, maintaining your blood pressure, and managing high cholesterol.
Dr Javaid also recommends making heart health a family affair. “Think about activities you can all enjoy together – and prioritise cooking as a family, where you can all learn about how to prepare and enjoy healthy food choices” he says.
Protect your heart in your forties
You may notice your metabolism slowing down as you age, and extra weight becoming more difficult to shift. But you can avoid problematic weight gain by following a healthy and varied diet and by getting plenty of fresh air and exercise.
Have you had your blood sugar level checked recently? It’s important to ensure you’re taking up tests and checks you’re offered and look at what’s available either through your own private medical insurance, or via your employer. For example, eligible Bupa customers may be able to access proactive coronary check-ups3. In addition to blood pressure checks and other heart-health screenings, you should also have a fasting blood glucose or HbA1c test (to test for diabetes or prediabetes) by the time you’re 40.
It's important to be aware of and manage your stress levels too. As Dr Javaid says: “The relationship between stress, heart disease and sudden death has long been recognised, and it’s crucial to recognise your triggers and take action to address and alleviate them.”
Protect your heart in your fifties
Your heart is ageing, but you can still choose a healthy lifestyle and protect yourself from issues. It’s never been more important to choose healthy food and to stay active. It’s also crucial to learn about the warning signs of a heart attack and stroke, understanding that they can vary from person to person. While common symptoms of a heart attack include severe chest pain, dizziness, and shortness of breath, not everyone experiences these. What’s more, heart attack symptoms can differ between men and women. For instance, as well as chest pain, women might experience pain or pressure in the lower chest or upper abdomen, fainting or extreme fatigue.
In your fifties, you may already have a heart treatment plan or be taking medication for high cholesterol. It is important to stick to your plan and keep on top of your appointments. Taking advice from your doctors and other health professionals will reduce your risk of issues as you get older.
Protect your heart in your sixties and seventies
As we get older, our blood pressure, cholesterol, and other heart-related numbers tend to rise. Dr Javaid recommends watching your numbers closely and managing any health problems that arise.
Of course, it’s more important than ever to know how to spot the early warning signs of heart problems and to seek medical advice as soon as possible if you think you’re experiencing symptoms.
All advice provided in this article has been reviewed by Dr Yassir Javaid, Clinical Director for Cardiology at Bupa UK.