Column: Heart health through the ages


Submitted column by IU Health

Heart disease is one of the nation’s top killers. Unfortunately, you can’t change your family health history, gender or ethnicity, but researchers are discovering plenty of things you can do to lower your risk of developing heart disease. Dr. Vijayasree K. Paleru, cardiologist at IU Health Saxony Hospital, offers advice for keeping your heart healthy for years to come.

“Eating well and staying physically active are crucial to keeping a healthy heart,” Paleru said. “It’s never too early to begin living a healthy lifestyle, but there’s more you can do than diet and exercise.” 

Health experts calculate your heart age by tallying up your risk factors for heart attack, stroke and similar health problems. The resulting number expresses how many years of strain you’ve added to your cardiovascular system with habits such as smoking, eating unhealthy foods and being inactive. Heart attacks often can be blamed on factors that increase heart age, but it’s not too late to turn back the clock. To keep your heart humming, Paleru recommends:

  • Giving up cigarettes, if you smoke
  • Keeping blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes under control
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Eating a healthy diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Being physically active
  • Reducing your stress
  • Limiting alcohol consumption

“Heart health matters at every age,” she said. “A poor diet and lack of exercise can cause plaque to form in arteries as early as adolescence, paving the way for a possible heart attack in a few decades.”

Prioritize heart health for your children at a young age by teaching them to live a healthy lifestyle. You can do this by limiting sweetened drinks, such as fruit juice or soft drinks that contain high amounts of sugar, buying older kids an activity tracker to motivate them to stay moving and planning time for the whole family to exercise together, such as a bike ride, playing tag or taking a walk.