Expert Tips to Improve Heart Health for Seniors

Did you know that 45% of Canadians over the age of 20 have at least one risk factor for heart disease? These factors include stress, a sedentary lifestyle, tobacco use and a poor diet. Therefore, how can seniors strengthen their heart?

The cardiovascular system: impressive and essential!

When we refer to the cardiovascular system, we often think of the heart. In fact, the cardiovascular system is also composed of blood vessels, arteries and veins that supply our entire body.

Weighing between 250 and 350 grams, the heart consists mainly of cardiac muscle cells, also known as myocardium. A typical heart rate should be between 60 and 80 beats per minute in adults. Every day, our heart pumps about 8,000 litres of blood, yet this organ weighs only less than a pound!

Understanding Heart Health for Seniors

Having a poor diet can lead to being overweight or obese. It can also result in several medical conditions, such as hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), hypertension, and diabetes, which can affect heart health for older adults.

What is high cholesterol?

Contrary to popular belief, cholesterol is vital to heart health. This is because cholesterol allows the production of hormones and is also needed to make vitamin D.

Cholesterol must travel via carriers to circulate in the bloodstream. These carriers are either qualified as "good" (HDL) or "bad" (LDL). The first recovers excess cholesterol and carries it to the liver for elimination, and the second transports cholesterol to the arteries, where it causes the buildup of fatty matter.

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Food tips to control blood cholesterol levels:

  1. Increase your intake of dietary fibre. Soluble fibre is great for promoting a healthy cardiovascular system. Oats, legumes and chia seeds are excellent sources of soluble fibre.

  2. Too much trans fats, shortenings and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils can raise your "bad" cholesterol (LDL) and decrease your "good" cholesterol (HDL). Fortunately, these products are found less and less on the market.

  3. Reduce your consumption of saturated fats by choosing lean meats and low-fat dairy products. In addition, avoid coconut butter, as well as palm and palm kernel oils.

  4. Opt for unsaturated fat sources that are good for your cardiovascular health, such as oils (olive, canola), nuts, seeds, fish and flaxseed.

What is hypertension, and how does it work?

Hypertension is when your blood pressure—the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your blood vessels—is consistently too high. It is measured when the heart contracts and relaxes. The ideal blood pressure level is 120/80, and anything equal to or above 140/80 is cause for concern. When blood pressure is too high, it can affect the elasticity of blood vessels and strain the heart.

Food tips to regulate hypertension:

  1. Avoid consuming over 2,300 mg of sodium per day. To do this, try to limit restaurant meals and processed foods.

  2. Load up on fruits and vegetables. Aim for 4 to 5 servings of fruit and 4 to 5 servings of vegetables per day.

  3. Choose whole-grain foods.

  4. Opt for low-fat milk and substitutes.

  5. Reduce your red meat consumption.

  6. Eat more vegetable proteins, such as nuts and seeds.

  7. Reduce the amount of fat you eat and focus on eating the right types of fats.

  8. Avoid sweets.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a disease caused by high blood sugar levels. In people with diabetes, insulin—the hormone that lets cells use sugar as energy—does not perform as it should. Diabetes causes premature damage to the arteries and increases the risk of strokes and heart attacks.

Did you know?

People with diabetes are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease.

Food tips to regulate blood sugar:

  1. Establish and respect a regular eating routine. Avoid skipping meals and ensure that you eat every three hours.

  2. Do not remove carbohydrates from your diet. Instead, control the amount you eat at every meal and spread them out evenly during the day. For example, women should eat 30 g to 45 g of carbohydrates per meal, and men should consume 45 g to 60 g per meal. To do so, it is important to know how to read food labels properly.

  3. Include grain, nuts, seeds, legumes and fruits in your diet. Dietary fibre does not negatively impact your blood sugar levels.

  4. Add some proteins to all your meals and snacks. Breakfast usually has very little protein. Instead, try eating eggs, milk or enriched soy beverages, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese and nut butters.

  5. What about alcohol? If you have diabetes, you can drink some alcohol. Ensure that your blood sugar is stable beforehand, drink responsibly and eat reasonably. Avoid digestives and cocktails, which are high in sugar.

Isabelle Huot Dietician

About Isabelle Huot

Nutritionist, author, columnist and guest speaker Isabelle Huot is a leading authority on healthy eating in Quebec. She has been making a name for herself in the media for over 15 years, and in 2009, she took the leap into entrepreneurship, a first for nutritionists in Quebec!

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