6 ways to protect your heart in your 60s

We all know how important it is to look after our hearts. Cardiovascular disease causes 170,000 deaths a year, or more than a quarter of all deaths in the UK, according to the British Heart Foundation,1 and you’re more at risk of heart problems as you get older: over-65s are much more likely to have a heart attack, heart failure or heart disease.2

How to support your heart

From what you eat to how you choose to relax after a stressful day, your lifestyle has a huge impact on heart health. Here are some tweaks to make to help protect it:

1. Eat your 5-a-day

Plenty of studies have shown that tucking into fruit and veg can reduce risk of heart disease.3 For one thing, fruit and veg contains lots of fibre: a 2013 University of Leeds study found that a higher fibre intake reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease.4

Your 5-a-day is also an important source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, many of which actively support heart health. For example, bananas and dark green leafy veg, like spinach, contain potassium, needed to maintain normal blood pressure,5 while berries are rich in antioxidants, which protect cell health. A 2016 analysis of 22 studies found that eating berries was linked to lower weight and blood pressure, and reduced ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.6

2. Stay a healthy weight

Curbing weight gain is really critical when you’re an adult. Some well-known studies, the Nurses’ Health Study and Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, published in 1995, reported that middle-aged adults who gained 5-10kg (11-22lb) after the age of 20 were up to three times more likely to develop high blood pressure and heart disease than those who only gained 2kg (5lb).7

The biggest problem is the fat that amasses around your internal organs. This is called visceral fat, and high levels can raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels.8 Tips include serving your meals on a smaller plate, meal-planning and upping your exercise, says the NHS.9

3. Take a heart-healthy supplement

Look out for ingredients that can support the heart. For example, Manuka Plus Heart of the Hive contains vitamin B1 (thiamine), needed for normal heart and nervous system function10 and resveratrol, a powerful antioxidant found in grape skins, which may help to reduce blood pressure.11 It also contains natural bee pollen, which has been shown to reduce blood fats,12 and plant sterols, which can lower LDL cholesterol.13

4. Watch the booze

Drinking a lot of alcohol can raise levels in your blood of a type of fat called triglycerides. This is linked to a higher risk of atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, and makes you more likely to go on to experience cardiovascular disease.14

Regular drinking can also send blood pressure higher. Aim for no more than 14 units of alcohol a week – around 6 glasses of wine (175ml) or pints of beer – for men and women.15

5. Manage your stress

Keeping tabs on stress is really important for your heart – it’s been shown that people experiencing chronic stress are more likely to go on to have heart problems.16

When under stress, your blood pressure rises, and this puts extra strain on your heart. Meanwhile, coping with stress by adopting an unhealthy habit, like drinking too much alcohol or relying on junk food, won’t do you any favours either – they can both increase your risk of blocked arteries.17

What’s key is to find healthy ways to manage your stress, like exercise, mindfulness, yoga, deep breathing exercises, and simply having a laugh with friends or family.

6. Stop smoking

Whether you sneak the occasional puff or have a full-on habit, it’s important to quit: smoking damages the lining of your arteries, increasing your risk of heart disease.18

On top of this, carbon monoxide in smoke cuts the amount of oxygen that can travel in your blood, while nicotine makes your body produce adrenaline – both of which force your heart to pump harder, and put it under stress.19

For help quitting, take a look at NHS Smokefree.

1. British Heart Foundation. Heart statistics: BHF Statistics Factsheet – UK. https://www.bhf.org.uk/what-we-do/our-research/heart-statistics
2. National Institute on Ageing. Heart Health and Aging. https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/heart-health-and-aging
3. Dauchet L, et al. Fruit and vegetable consumption and risk of coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis of cohort studies. J Nutr. 2006 Oct; 136(1):2588-93. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16988131
4. Threapleton DE, et al. Dietary fibre intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2013;347: f6879. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3898422/
5. European Commission. EU Register of nutrition and health claims made on foods. http://ec.europa.eu/food/safety/labelling_nutrition/claims/register/public/?event=register.home
6. Huang H, et al. Effects of Berries Consumption on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Meta-analysis with Trial Sequential Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Sci Rep. 2016;6:23625. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4804301/
7. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Healthy Weight: Maintain, Don’t Gain. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/healthy-weight/#ref2
8. Gruzdeva O, et al. Localization of fat depots and cardiovascular risk. Lipids Health Dis. 2018;17:218. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6138918/
9. NHS Inform. How to lose weight safely. https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/food-and-nutrition/healthy-eating-and-weight-loss/how-to-lose-weight-safely
10. As Source 5
11. Liu Y, et al. Effect of resveratrol on blood pressure: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Clin Nutr. 2015 Feb;34(1):27-34. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24731650
12. Komosinska-Vassev K, et al. Bee Pollen: Chemical Composition and Therapeutic Application. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015; 2015: 29745. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4377380/
13. Ras RT, Geleijnse JM, Trautwein EA. LDL-cholesterol-lowering effect of plant sterols and stanols across different dose ranges: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled studies. Br J Nutr. 2014 Jul 28;112(2):214-9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24780090
14. Jiang S-Z, et al. Obesity and hypertension. Exp Ther Med. 2016 Oct; 12(4):2395-2399. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5038894/
15. Drink Aware. CMO’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines. https://www.drinkaware.co.uk/alcohol-facts/alcoholic-drinks-units/alcohol-limits-unit-guidelines/
16. Medical News Today. Work stress increases heart attack risk by 23%. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/250289.php
17. American Heart Association. Stress and Heart Health. https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/stress-and-heart-health
18. British Heart Foundation. Smoking. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/risk-factors/smoking
19. As above