by Sherrin Griffin – VP, Operations, Sidney SeniorCare –
Considering that February is “Heart Month,” it seems fitting to tie this organ of love into Seaside’s Health and Wellness focus this month, and explore how heart health affects us as we age.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, heart disease affects approximately 2.4 million adults in Canada. Matters of the heart are among the top five reasons for hospitalization at any age, and the top reason for our seniors’ populace.
Our hearts work extraordinarily hard for us over our lifetime. By the time we reach our senior years, our hearts have beaten several billion times.
Unfortunately, over the years, poor dietary and lifestyle choices take a toll on our heart. We tend to be less active and more sedentary in our senior years, whether due to illness, limited mobility or simply apathy. The normal process of aging causes our heart and blood vessels to stiffen, which can lead to heart failure, coronary artery disease, and atrial fibrillation in later years. Blood vessels become less flexible and collect plaques, slowing the blood flow from the heart and making it harder for blood to move through them. Hypertension (high blood pressure) may result; the most common heart condition for those 75 or older. Seniors are also at risk for dizziness, fainting or falls when they stand up abruptly due to blood pressure not being able to adjust as quickly to sudden movement.
We are discovering more about this muscular organ of ours every day. Other than the obvious dietary and lifestyle factors, the aging heart is also affected by less blatant and more metaphysical influences; many that we don’t fully understand yet. A new in-depth analysis, conducted by Canada’s Heart and Stroke Foundation, has revealed that the interconnection between our hearts, our brains and our minds is much stronger and more complex than previously thought. Our mental and emotional states can take a heavy toll, especially on the aging heart. Living with depression and/or anxiety can elevate stress hormones and blood pressure, and also overexcite our “fight or flight” response which can be very detrimental to heart health.
We’re all familiar with the unexplainable accounts of elderly spouses who pass away within months or even days of each other, including the highly publicized and touching news report of how actress Debbie Reynolds passed away a mere day after her beloved daughter Carrie Fisher. We will never really know if Ms. Reynold’s passing was caused by a weakening of the heart due to a sudden surge of stress hormones or by the unbearable sadness from the loss of her daughter. But we do know now that the age-old adage “died of a broken heart” may not be too far from the truth, and is actually becoming an established fact in medical literature.
There is no doubt that a strong emotional component affects the heart in a physical way. Evidence from interviews with centenarians has shown that a joyful heart is a significant contributor to longevity. And the ways to achieve a happy heart are through connection to family and community, a sense of purpose and fulfillment, and an overall positive outlook on life. One of the most optimistic people I know is my own father, fast approaching his ninth decade with the heart health of a man half his age; due proof that his positive outlook on life may indeed lead him to centenarian status.