Learning Resources

Understanding Heart Health

Heart disease is responsible for a significant portion of annual deaths in the UK, affecting older individuals to a greater extent. This is primarily due to the natural ageing process, which leads to the stiffening of blood vessels and arteries, thereby increasing the workload on the heart for pumping blood throughout the body.


Heart Health Tips for Older Adults

Although the heart muscles do adapt to some extent, the presence of high blood pressure and high cholesterol exacerbates the situation, making them the two primary risk factors for heart disease.

While certain factors like our genetic makeup are beyond our control, there are lifestyle modifications that can be adopted to lower the risk. It is noteworthy that the evidence suggests that there are benefits to making these changes at any point in the life course.

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These objectives are being delivered by local networks.

Already about 30 million of the population are supported by networks of AgeUK, the Active Partnerships, the NHS, Local Authorities, and the business community.  ​These networks are also leading a cultural revolution to create a positive environment that recognises the talents and potential of older people and appreciates what is needed to reduce the obstacles that too often prevent people realising their potential to contribute to society.

​The Ageing Well Programme

Living Longer Better complements and supplements the Ageing Well programme of NHS England. The Ageing Well Programme takes a systematic approach to identifying all the people with frailty, or at high risk of developing frailty, and ensuring the NHS clinical teams, particularly in primary care, take effective, evidence-based action to prevent deterioration and unnecessary hospital admission, because of the adverse effect that has on people with frailty no matter how high the quality of care in the hospital.

Monitoring Your Heart Health

In most cases, high blood pressure or high cholesterol do not present obvious symptom, which means it’s crucial to take regular measurements. Your GP or pharmacist can perform these checks, which should be done regularly after the age of 40. Fortunately, this service is straightforward and free as part of the NHS Health Check.

Maintaining Healthy Blood Pressure

Reduce salt consumption:

Adults should limit their salt intake to less than 6 g per day, yet average UK consumption is closer to 8 g daily. Excessive salt intake leads to water retention in the bloodstream, raising blood pressure. Different types of salt, such as sea salt, rock salt, and pink Himalayan salt, all have the same negative impact on blood pressure. Ageing can affect our sense of taste, leading to increased salt usage. Being mindful of this and using herbs and spices to enhance flavour while cooking is beneficial. Processed foods, including bread, cereals, processed meats, dairy products, snacks, sauces, and spreads, often contain hidden salt. Look for foods with green and amber traffic lights indicating lower salt content and try to avoid those with red traffic lights

Increase fruit and vegetable intake:

Fruits and vegetables contain potassium, which helps lower blood pressure and counteracts the effects of sodium. Additionally, certain fibres found in fruits and vegetables prevent cholesterol absorption into the bloodstream. Diets rich in fruits, vegetables, and fibre are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Aim for at least five portions per day, with an adult portion being around 80 g or approximately a handful. Fresh, tinned, and frozen fruits and vegetables, as well as pulses like beans, peas, and lentils, all count towards your intake.

Prioritise sufficient sleep:

Although the ideal amount of sleep varies for each individual, adults generally aim for around eight hours of sleep per night. Consistently sleeping fewer than five hours, having interrupted sleep or insomnia, or working in shifts can contribute to high blood pressure. Sleep problems are also linked to weight gain, as fatigue may lead to unhealthy eating habits or relying on alcohol to induce sleep. While certain professions may make it challenging to adhere to regular sleep patterns, excessive stress over sleep can be counterproductive. If experiencing difficulties, seek expert advice for tips on improving sleep quality.

Promoting Healthy Cholesterol Levels

Maintain a healthy weight:

Being overweight increases the risk of heart disease. Research indicates that losing just five to ten per cent of body weight can have a positive impact on blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Weight distribution is also crucial, as carrying excess weight around the middle (‘apple’ shape) can raise cholesterol and increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Visceral fat, which surrounds organs, contributes to these health risks. While losing weight and sustaining it can be challenging, focusing on reducing sugary and fatty foods, and incorporating fruits, vegetables, and pulses while moderating portion sizes is a good start. Gradual and sustainable changes are generally more effective than drastic diets.

Substitute saturated fats with healthy fats:

Fat is a necessary component of our diet, but consuming excessive saturated fats can elevate cholesterol levels. Opt for foods containing more unsaturated fats, such as olive oil and vegetable oil, to help maintain lower cholesterol levels. Red and processed meats, like sausages, are typically higher in saturated fats compared to poultry and fish, so reducing their consumption can also be beneficial. Expert associations, including the World Health Organization, recommend reducing saturated fats and replacing them with unsaturated fats based on extensive evidence from randomised controlled trials, population studies, and genetic studies.

Incorporate whole grains and pulses:

Whole grains and pulses are rich in fibre, which helps lower cholesterol levels by preventing its absorption into the bloodstream. Beta glutton is found in oats and barley, while pulses like beans, lentils, and peas contain psyllium. Older adults are advised to consume 30 g of fibre daily, but it is often overlooked, with many people in the UK consuming only around 18 g.To reach your fibre target, opt for wholemeal or seeded bread, high-fibre breakfast cereals, and aim to include more pulses, fruits, and vegetables in your meals. Nuts and seeds are also beneficial additions to your diet.

Staying Active

Physical activity is beneficial for heart health, aiding in weight management and regulating cholesterol and blood pressure. Additionally, it reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and several types of cancer, while also promoting mental wellbeing and better sleep.

The government recommends that older adults aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity per week. This includes any activity that raises your heart rate, makes you feel warmer, and increases your breathing rate without leaving you out of breath.

Exercise doesn’t have to involve intense running or expensive gym classes; it can include activities such as walking, cycling, swimming, dancing, tennis, gardening, and more.

If you have high blood pressure and are new to exercise, consult your doctor before engaging in vigorous activities. It’s best to start with smaller activities and gradually increase intensity over time.

Stop Smoking

Smoking doubles the risk of heart attacks and strokes. By quitting smoking, you significantly improve your heart health and overall wellbeing.

Smoking damages the blood vessel walls, leading to cholesterol deposition and narrowing of arteries. Consequently, the heart must work harder to pump blood throughout the body.

It’s never too late to quit smoking. The British Heart Foundation states that after one year of quitting, the risk of heart attack is halved compared to that of a smoker.

Remember, taking steps to quit smoking is a positive decision for your heart health and longevity.

Click here to visit the British Heart Foundation:

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