Let’s get to the heart of the matter - what you can do to strengthen your heart?
But first, let’s talk about what you can’t control. According to the American Heart Association, uncontrollable risk factors for heart disease include:
- Age A women’s risk of heart disease and stroke increases with age.
- Gender It’s true that men have a greater risk of heart attack than women, and they have attacks earlier in life. However, about 55,000 more women than men have strokes each year. And about 60 percent of total stroke deaths occur in women.
- Heredity Both women and men are more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke if there is a history of heart disease in the family. Race is also a factor. For instance, black women have a greater risk of heart disease and stroke than white women. Furthermore, African-American men and women are more than white people likely to die of stroke.
- Previous incidence of a heart attack, stroke or mini-stroke Women who’ve had a heart attack are at higher risk of having a second heart attack. Furthermore, 22 percent of women ages 40 to 69 who survive a first heart attack will have another heart attack or fatal coronary heart disease within five years. Additionally, 22 percent of women ages 40 to 69 who survive a first stroke will have another within five years.
However, exercise is one factor that we can control and it can help stave off heart disease. And it turns out that it can actually make the heart younger. According to a story by McClatchy News reporter Alex Branch, a nationally recognized study that focused on whether a lifelong commitment to physical exercise affects the heart muscle. Dr. Paul Bhella, a cardiologist with JPS Health Network, and a team of researchers studied the hearts of people who were older than 65 and who had a varied history of exercise, which was defined as an aerobic activity (walking, jogging, cycling, etc.) that was done for more than 20 minutes. The researchers also studied people who were younger than 35 who were healthy but didn’t exercise. MRIs found that the hearts of older people who exercised consistently during their lifetimes did not lose mass and elasticity (which is what puts older people at higher risk of heart failure). "Those who exercised four to five times a week were able to maintain youthful heart mass," Branch wrote. "More impressively, those who exercised six to seven times a week not only maintained mass but promoted new mass, even surpassing levels in people ages 25 to 34 who did not exercise." The researchers found similar results when looking at heart elasticity.
And it’s never too early to start. According to a story reported by the Toronto Sun, inactive children who are as young as nine face a greater risk of having future heart problems than children who are active. The study by a team of Swedish and Danish researchers assessed the physical activity levels of 123 boys and 100 girls over a four-day period through measuring the children’s blood pressure, resting heart rate, arterial pressure and pulse pressure. The findings indicate that children who are more physically active actually had a lower composite risk factor score for heart disease.
So the lesson to learn is to schedule yourself for some heart-healthy exercise on a daily basis. It could be a brisk walk with your dog or a run on the treadmill at the gym. It doesn’t matter which one you choose. All that matters is that by taking this approach, you’ll be redefining what it means to be "young at heart."
Dorian Martin writes about various topics for HealthCentral, including Alzheimer’s disease, diet/exercise, menopause and lung cancer. Dorian is a health and caregiving advocate living in College Station, TX. She has a Ph.D. in educational human resource development. Dorian also founded I Start Wondering, which encourages people to embrace a life-long learning approach to aging. She teaches Sheng Zhen Gong, a form of Qigong. Follow Dorian on Twitter at @dorianmartin, Facebook or Instagram at @doriannmartin.