Heart Health in Seniors

Senior Care

Adults over the age of sixty-five have an increased risk of heart-related health problems such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attacks, and heart disease. While some risk factors are unavoidable, such as pre-existing conditions like diabetes, there are many other risk factors that can be managed to lower the chance of seniors developing these heart problems. Exercising, maintaining a healthy diet, and lowering stress levels are just some of the ways seniors can keep their hearts strong and healthy as they age.

In this post we’ll discuss the warning signs of heart problems, followed by good lifestyle choices to avoid them so your loved ones can keep their hearts healthy well into their senior years.

The classic sign of a heart attack is chest pain, but this is more common in younger men. Women and older adults can experience heart attacks without any chest pain at all, making it even more important to pay attention to the warning signs.

Typical Signs of a Heart Attack in Younger Men

  • Chest pain in the middle or on the left side, including sensations like squeezing, fullness, or uncomfortable pressure

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, and sometimes in the neck, jaw, or back

  • Feeling lightheaded, weak, faint, or breaking out in a cold sweat

Signs of a Heart Attack in Women and Older Adults

Heart attacks in women and seniors may occur with or without chest pain, and can therefore be easily overlooked or mistaken for some other illness. Symptoms include:

  • Sleep disturbances

  • Sudden weakness

  • Extreme shortness of breath

  • Nausea or indigestion

  • Full body aches

  • A general feeling of being unwell

  • Discomfort in the back or upper body 

What is Heart Disease?

According to the National Institute on Aging , “heart disease is caused by the buildup of fatty deposits, or plaques, in the walls of the coronary arteries over many years. If the flow of blood to your heart is reduced by plaque buildup or is blocked if a plaque suddenly ruptures, it can cause angina (chest pain or discomfort) or a heart attack. When the heart muscle does not get enough oxygen and blood nutrients, the heart muscle cells will die (heart attack) and weaken the heart, diminishing its ability to pump blood to the rest of the body.”

Signs of Heart Disease:

  • Pain, numbness, and/or tingling in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back

  • Shortness of breath when active, at rest, or while lying flat

  • Chest pain during physical activity that gets better when you rest

  • Lightheadedness

  • Dizziness

  • Confusion

  • Headaches

  • Cold sweats

  • Nausea/vomiting

  • Tiredness or fatigue

  • Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach, and/or neck

  • Reduced ability to exercise or be physically active

  • Problems doing your normal activities

If you or a loved one experience any symptoms of heart disease or a heart attack, seek medical attention immediately.


The CDC recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise a week in order to maintain a healthy heart. Aerobic exercise includes swimming, jogging, walking at a brisk pace, or any other activity that keeps the heart rate elevated.

Regular exercise can also help keep seniors flexible and keep mobility issues at bay as they get older, but your loved one might be intimidated to start exercising at an older age if they have never done it before. If they have concerns, encourage them to talk to their doctor before starting any new exercises to make sure they can do them safely. Swimming or bicycling are good aerobic exercises for seniors if they have joint problems that prevent them from participating in high impact activities like running, which can be hard on the knees.

A minimum of twenty or thirty minutes a day of regular exercise helps strengthen the heart muscle, lower high blood pressure, and reduce stress.


A diet high in salt, sugar, and fatty or processed foods contributes to a risk of heart attack, heart disease, and high cholesterol and blood pressure. In order to follow a diet that is good for the heart , focus on eating lean meat, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lots of fruit and vegetables.

A diet high in fiber can be linked to improved heart health in older people, but a high percentage of North Americans are not meeting their daily recommended fiber intake. Doctors suggest that adults need between 25 to 30g of fiber every day to stay healthy, but the average North American is only getting about 15g, which is only half of what they need. To increase dietary fiber, pay attention to fresh produce and whole grains. Fiber is found in fruits, grains, and vegetables. Beans are an especially good source of fiber, as well as being a healthy source of protein.


Heavy drinking is also linked to heart problems. Doctors recommend that men limit themselves to no more than one or two drinks a day, and women to no more than one. Alcoholism can be an issue in older people, leading to a number of health problems that could be prevented by cutting down on the number of drinks regularly consumed.


Smoking significantly increases the risk of heart problems as you age. Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of death in the United States, killing over 800,000 people a year, and smoking causes one in four of those deaths . Secondhand smoke can also lead to cardiovascular disease in non-smokers. Unlike alcohol, there is no number of cigarettes that can be safely enjoyed. Encourage the smokers in your life to turn to their friends, family, or doctor for help with quitting if they have been struggling to do it on their own.

The NIH lists several resources to help older adults with quitting, and also states that the benefits of quitting apply no matter what age a smoker gives up nicotine. Those benefits include: heart rate and blood pressure returning to normal levels, better function of the lungs, heart, and circulatory system, the chance of a heart attack and stroke dropping, as well as a lower chance of cancer.


Managing stress can be more challenging than adjusting your diet or adding exercise to your routine, but it's still important to try. High stress levels are linked to high blood pressure which can have a negative effect on the heart in older adults. But your senior loved ones can still take steps to improve their quality of life, even if their stressors are outside their control. Exercise, healthy eating, getting enough sleep, and spending time outdoors all contribute to a more positive mindset that will help them handle stress in a healthier way.

Of course, it's easier said than done for someone to simply cut stress out of their life. If you notice your senior loved ones feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed, encourage them to reach out for help. Their doctor may recommend a plan of action to help them deal with these feelings, such as medication or psychotherapy. It's likely that some combination of exercise, diet, spending time socialising with friends and family, and getting professional help from their doctor will help them reduce stress and set them on the path to maintaining a healthier heart.

Other Health Concerns

As your loved ones get older, it's likely that they are already managing other health issues, possibly with medication. One of the most important things they can do to lower their risk of heart problems in this situation is to follow their doctor's orders. Make sure they take their medication on a schedule without missing any doses, and stay on top of their underlying health concerns.

Diabetes in particular leads to an increased risk of health problems. 26.8% of seniors in America had diabetes in 2018, and that percentage is expected to keep rising. It's important for diabetics to follow their treatment plan and keep the condition under control to prevent any added risk to their heart.

Though aging increases the risk of heart disease, taking these steps will give your senior loved ones the chance to age with strong, healthy hearts that will see them through the coming years.