Many people mistakenly believe that heart disease only affects elderly people, but heart disease can strike at any age. The truth is that the lifestyle choices you make now will have an impact on your risks for heart disease later in life. Years of being sedentary, a poor diet, and other unhealthy habits such as smoking will eventually catch up with you and affect your heart health, putting you at risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, or stroke.
There are many things you can do at any age to keep your heart healthy and lower your risks for heart disease.
Eat a heart-healthy diet
It’s never too early to change your diet and your eating habits. The types of foods you eat can reduce your risk for heart disease and stroke. Regularly eating a healthy diet that is low in saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium is a good starting point.
Incorporate lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and fish,
especially oily fish (which you should eat at least twice a week). Limiting the amount of meat you eat, especially red meat, can also help lower your heart disease risk. Always choose low-fat dairy products, and avoid fried foods. Limit your sugar intake as well as limiting highly processed foods and sugary drinks like sodas and energy drinks.
Regular exercise can lower your risk for heart disease, but most Americans are becoming increasingly more sedentary.
According to the American Heart Association, sedentary jobs have increased by 83 percent since 1950. A review of studies published in 2015 in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that sitting for long periods of time was associated with higher rates of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Even if you are exercising 30 minutes per day, if you’re sitting the majority of the other hours of the day, this can greatly increase your risk for developing heart disease.
For people who exercise regularly and have high physical activity levels, if they sit more than 10 hours a day, such as at an office job, their risk for heart disease is significantly increased.
In addition to the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week, you should get into the habit of moving more throughout your day. If you have a job that requires you to sit at a desk in front of a computer all day, try to get up and stand and move for eight minutes for every 20 minutes of sitting. Taking a walk around the building or going up and down the stairs are examples of how you can work movement into your office work day. You can use a fitness tracker to aim for 10,000 steps per day.
As far as regular exercise is concerned, aiming for the 150 minutes of physical activity per week is the goal. You can start by walking and increase your intensity and duration as you become more physically fit. In addition to cardiovascular activity, you should also be doing muscle strengthening exercises two days per week.
No matter what age you are, don’t start smoking. If you are a smoker, quitting can greatly reduce any damage to your health and reduce your heart disease and cancer risks. Being regularly exposed to secondhand smoke can also pose a serious health risk. Nonsmokers are almost 30 percent more likely to develop heart disease or lung cancer from being exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work, according to a U.S. Surgeon General report.
Reduce your risk by the decades
No matter what your age now, making lifestyle changes can help you lower your risks for heart disease and stroke:
In your 20s
Start getting into a regular exercise regimen, and don’t start smoking, or stop smoking if it’s a habit you started in your teens. Develop healthy eating habits that will last a lifetime, and limit your alcohol consumption.
In your 30s
As you begin juggling career and family, learn to manage your stress levels. Make regular exercise and eating a healthy diet a family affair, and cement these good habits now.
In your 40s
Your metabolism may slow down as you age, so keep an eye on your weight, and make any diet and exercise changes to lose weight if you find the scale is creeping up. Make sure you get regular health screenings and an annual physical to stay on top of any health issues that might arise.
In your 50s
Now is when health issues can pop up, so it’s important to continue with health screenings and seeing your doctor regularly. Continue eating a healthy diet, getting adequate exercise, and talking with your doctor about adding any needed supplements, such as calcium (if you are a woman entering menopause).
In your 60s and beyond
As you age, your heart disease risk increases. Watch your numbers: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and other heart-related numbers can rise at this age. Work with your doctor to address any conditions that may need medication or treatment. Keep consistent with a healthy diet, and exercise to help you live longer and have a better quality of life as you age.