Do You Believe?

Stay fit and healthy with Senior Planet from AARP. Join us for live virtual fitness classes, lectures and discussion groups on health topics. Learn more here!

Do you believe healthy habits matter?

Mention ”heart health” and chances are great we all know what to do—keep moving, eat right, watch your cholesterol and blood pressure, reduce stress, sleep well.

Here’s an interesting twist: if you believe any or all of these habits potentially improve health, you are likely to live longer than non-believers. You’re also more likely to start and maintain those habits.

Follow the Science

“There are many established studies that have used rigorous science to show the impact of healthy habits on health,” says David Marquez, PhD, a researcher at the University of Illinois, Chicago.  With his colleagues, Marquez evaluated more than 6,000 adults over age 60 in the National Institutes of Health funded research.  The Mexican Health and Aging Study followed them for 11 years to see if beliefs mattered. Those who believed healthy habits work lived longer, he found. “It is more than just a placebo effect,” Marquez says. “One of the keys is that if you believe [a healthy habit] will improve your health, then you are more likely to start it and maintain it.”

Do You Believe?

Here are some tips on how to adopt (or improve your practice of) the healthy heart habits mentioned most by cardiologists and other experts:

Physical Activity: Having a weekly goal helps. With your doctor’s OK, aim for 150 minutes, about 2.5 hours, of activity a week. It can be walking, running, hiking, dancing, bowling, biking or anything else you like.  You can do it in daily spurts, if that fits your schedule and energy level better.

Healthy Diet: Opinions differ on the very best diet for heart health. The top three diets, according to this year’s US News & World Report annual ranking, are the Mediterranean, Ornish and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension.)

Manage Cholesterol: In the latest guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology,  experts stress a personalized approach. Your doctor may decide the level of LDL (”bad”) cholesterol that is deemed OK for your friend may not be OK for you.

Besides the cholesterol numbers—total, LDL, HDL (“good”) and other measures—your doctor will consider your overall health, including a history of heart attack or stroke, and your 10-year risk of heart or stroke problems. Ethnicity and race factor in as well. Blacks, Native Americans and Alaskans have a greater heart disease risk than do non-Hispanic whites, for instance. Only then will you know: is it time to ditch the cheese and go on meds?

Manage Blood Pressure: For most adults, the ideal reading is less than 120 over less than 80. Here are more details. Your doctor can give you more personalized advice, especially if you have a family history of high blood pressure or are African-American (who are more likely to develop it, and at younger ages).

Manage Stress: From getting a pet to learning mindfulness, there are many ways to tamp down that stress.

Sleep Well: If you toss and turn way too much, check out the National Institute on Aging’s tips.

If that’s not enough bedtime reading, we have more here and here.

This article offered by Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.

Photo: Shaun Newton

Kathleen Doheny is a Los Angeles-based independent journalist, specializing in health, behavior, fitness and lifestyle stories. Besides writing for Senior Planet, she reports for WebMD, Medscape, Endocrine Web, Practical Pain Management, Spine Universe and other sites.  She is a mom, mother-in-law and proud and happy Mimi who likes to hike, jog and shop.


Photo: (Middle) by Randy Fath on Unsplash