In your 50s, kids are growing up but often the responsibilities of aging parents are increasing. The pressures of the so-called sandwich generation, leads to increased stress levels and limited time to exercise and eat healthy.
Before age 55, women have a lower risk of coronary heart disease than men. After age 55, this risk increases in both men and women. Once women reach menopause, the risk of cardiovascular disease goes up as the protective effect of estrogen wanes. About two-thirds of adults in this age group have elevated cholesterol levels and blood pressure.
A lifetime of unhealthy dietary and lifestyle habits starts catching up with us in our 50s. However, it’s never too late to make changes and improve your cardiovascular health.
Even if you eat healthy most of the time, you may notice your weight creeping up. As we age and our metabolism slows down, our bodies require fewer calories. Given these changes, you’ll need to cut back on portion size.
You should also be aware of the sodium and saturated content of foods. Most packaged goods and condiments contain high amounts of sodium. Limit your sodium intake to 2,000 mg or less per day. Limit your saturated fat intake to 7% of your daily caloric intake (about 16 grams per day). Full fat dairy and high fat cuts of meat have a high saturated fat content.
A heart healthy diet features the following:
Complex Carbs: Choose a wide variety of colored fruits and vegetables to obtain vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and fiber. Not getting enough of these foods? Cover gaps in your diet with VitaMedica’s Phyto-5 complex.
Lean Protein: Opt for leans meats such as fish and poultry. Limit your consumption of red meat which contains more saturated fat and be sure to select lean cuts like filet. Add legumes and beans to your meals to enhance their protein content.
Unsaturated Fats: Select non-fat or low-fat dairy products (yogurt, milk, cheese) to reduce the amount of saturated fat in your diet. Use olive oil in salads and low-heat cooking. Fill the gaps in your diet with an Omega-3 supplement like VitaMedica’s Flax Seed Oil and Super EPA/DHA Fish Oil.
At this point in your life, you may have a bit more time to work out. But, it can be hard to start especially if you haven’t been working out in years. Enlist the support of a spouse, friend or personal trainer to get you motivated.
Many women focus on cardio exercises such as running, eliptical or spin classes. But, it’s important to add strength training a few times a week. In physically inactive adults, after the age of 30, the rate of muscle loss is about 3-5% per decade and a similar decline in muscle strength. Loss of muscle mass usually starts in women in their 40s and accelerates in their mid-70s. Known as sarcopenia (“poverty of flesh”), this loss of muscle mass, strength and function as we age is associated with the absence of exercise in sufficient intensity or volume. Resistance exercise can mitigate this muscle loss over time.
You should aim for at least 150 minutes/week of moderate exercise or 75 minutes/week of vigorous exercise.
Most likely if you haven’t started smoking at this point in your life, you’re not likely to start. However, if you need to quit, seek help.
Know Your Numbers
If you haven’t already done so, you should get your numbers checked. You may need to take medications to counter high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels.
Here are the key numbers along with targets:
- Blood pressure < 120 mg/dL (systolic); < 80mg/dL (diastolic)
- Fasting glucose < 100 mg/dL
- Total cholesterol < 200 mg/dL
- LDL or “bad” cholesterol < 130 mg/dL
- HDL or “good” cholesterol > 40 mg/dL men and > 50 mg/dL women
- Triglycerides < 150 mg/dL
If you’ve been diagnosed with high cholesterol, now is the time to modify your diet. Increase your fiber intake by eating more fruits and vegetables and adding flax seed meal to your diet. At the same time, cut back on your trans-fats and saturated fat intake. Both of these measures can improve your cholesterol levels. Aim for less than 300 mg a day for healthy adults; less than 200 mg a day for adults with high levels of LDL or “bad” cholesterol.
If your blood pressure is creeping up be sure to watch your sodium intake. Increase your intake of potassium and magnesium by eating lots of dark green veggies or supplementing your diet with a high-quality Multi-Vitamin & Mineral.
Know Your Family History
If you have a close relative that has had a heart attack or stroke, you may be more at risk for developing heart disease. Your risk increases if your father or brother had heart disease before age 55 or if your mother or sister was diagnosed with heart disease before 65 years of age.
For more information, refer to our article, Top 5 Tips for a Healthy Heart.
David H. Rahm, M.D. is the founder and medical director of The Wellness Center, a medical clinic located in Long Beach, CA. Dr. Rahm is also president and medical director of VitaMedica. Dr. Rahm is one of a select group of conventional medical doctors who have education and expertise in functional medicine and nutritional science. Over the past 20 years, Dr. Rahm has published articles in the plastic surgery literature and educated physicians about the importance of good peri-operative nutrition.