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How to help your parent prevent heart disease

Heart disease affects just under 500,000 people aged 75 and over in the UK.

We’ve gathered together some tips to help your parent reduce the risk of heart disease as they get older – and they are relevant to the middle years as well.

Debate continues as to which of these factors have the most impact on heart health so they are all worth addressing.

No more smoking

While smoking is no longer considered as cool as it once was our parents may be living with the effects of smoking in their youth. If you parent is still smoking it might be time for them to call it quits.

Admittedly it can be hard to break the habit of a lifetime but gentle encouragement from family may help them steer clear of cigarettes. According to the NHS half of all long-term smokers are more likely to die early from diseases such as heart disease.

Family history

If your family has a history of heart related diseases it may increase the chance your parent will develop one in later life. If your parent’s worried about hereditary heart disease they can have their cardiovascular health risk assessed by their GP.

Cut out stress

Although stress isn’t directly related to heart disease it can lead to your parent eating more or staying in in order to cope better which means they’re not taking care of their physical and, to a certain degree, their mental health.

Gentle exercise

Muscle-strengthening and aerobic exercises are recommended as the most effective for those over the age of 65. Going for walks and digging in the garden are just some of the exercises your parent can do to keep their blood pressure low and protect against heart disease. The advice for those who have suffered any sort of cardiac event is that walking (not strolling) for 20-30 minutes a day is enough to make a real difference.

Monitoring blood pressure

Anyone in middle age and beyond is likely to get a blood pressure check from their GP as a regular event. If not they can ask for one at the surgery or local health clinic. High blood pressure can increase the risk of heart disease but it doesn’t normally make people feel unwell so needs to be checked properly.

GPs will often fit out patients who are found to have potentially high blood pressure with a kit that measures fluctuating levels across 24 hours so provide a better picture.

Should your parent want to keep a closer eye on their blood pressure they can buy a validated blood pressure monitor suitable for home use from their local pharmacy or other registered manufacturers.

They will need to be validated regularly to ensure they are continuing to give an accurate picture, but they are useful for those who suffer from “white coat syndrome” and always present high blood pressure when faced with a doctor or nurse.

Blood Pressure UK has a useful guide to finding the right blood pressure monitor to suit your parent’s needs as well as a booklet on the various medications they can take to reduce their blood pressure.

Healthy eating

A balanced diet in old age means lower cholesterol which is vital for a healthy heart. Avoiding foods with high levels of cholesterol or saturated fat such as sausages, butter and cakes (all the good things in life!) will help to reduce the risk of raised cholesterol.

Eating plenty of salmon, nuts and seeds (foods that are high in fibre and omega-3) can actually help to reduce levels of cholesterol found in the blood and therefore combat the risk of heart disease.

The British Heart Foundation has a great guide to eating well that you and your parent can download or order from their site.

Losing weight

It can be more difficult to lose weight as we get older and so your parents may need support from family to reach their goals. Encouraging your parents to keep active will help prevent those extra pounds from creeping on in later life.

Getting out and about to visit family or their favourite places may help a parent who struggles to maintain a healthy weight. If your parent is overweight you may find that there’s an increased risk of high blood pressure and heart complications as they get older.

Drinking less alcohol

While not everyone’s parent drinks there are more than a few of us who pour our parent’s favourite tipple from time to time. If your parent drinks more than the norm it may affect their heart health as well as their weight which can lead to increased blood pressure and even abnormal heart rhythms.

If your parent chooses to cut down it may be a good time to find an alternative soft drink that hits the spot instead.

If you’d like more information on how to keep your parent’s heart healthy the British Heart Foundation, Blood Pressure UK and British Hypertension Society websites all have relevant resources to guide you.

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