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OUR concept of aging has changed: Instead of worrying about how long we will live, (our life span), we now understand that how long we can live a healthy life - the concept of “health span” - may be more important, says the August 2013 of the Harvard Medical School’s Harvard Health Letter.

Since heart attack and stroke are the leading causes of death and disability in older age, doing everything you can to lower the likelihood of developing these “cardiovascular events” increases your health span, adds the health letter.

Dr. Richard Lee, co-editor in chief of the Harvard Health Letter, says, “How you approach growing older can mean the difference between years or decades of good health.”
 
As we age, there are so many things we can do to lower our cardiovascular risk, including:

• Staying active

• Making healthy food and beverage choices

• Keeping your blood pressure - Systolic blood pressure (the first or top number in a blood pressure reading) is created by the contraction of the heart muscle.

As blood vessels grow stiffer and the heart muscle thickens with age, systolic blood pressure goes up - this is a major cause of heart attack and stroke.

Learn to track your blood pressure at home, in addition to having it monitored at the doctor’s office more often than once a year.

Also, as your systolic pressure starts to go up, talk with your doctor about medical and lifestyle ways to reduce it, adds Dr. Lee.

• Keeping your cholesterol under control - While following a heart-healthy diet is the best way to do this, many individuals need to add a cholesterol-lowering drug, such as a statin to keep their cholesterol under control.

Some individuals are reluctant to take statins because of fear of side effects, such as muscle weakness, but most individuals never experience side effects, and lowering the dose or switching to a different statin can often resolve the problem.

There is no defined age at which these drugs are no longer effective at reducing cardiovascular events - “The benefits of cholesterol lowering begin so quickly that age isn’t an issue,” says Dr. Lee.

• Maintaining a healthy weight

Helpguide.org, a nonprofit resource collaborating with Harvard Health Publications, offers these tips to protect your physical and mental health after age 50 and provide a long health span:

• Learn to cope with change - 1) Focus on the things you’re grateful for;

2) Look for silver linings;

3) Acknowledge and express your feelings;

4) Take one small step each day to deal with life’s challenges.

• Find activities you enjoy - 1) Try a new hobby;

2) Learn something new [a foreign language or a musical instrument];

3) Take a class;

4) Write your memories.

• Stay connected - 1) Spend time with family and friends;

2) Make new friends;

3) Volunteer;

4) Find support groups to help you cope with illness or loss.

• Sleep well - 1) Have a regular bedtime;

2) Make sure your bedroom is dark or use a sleep mask;

3) Turn off the TV and other screens at least an hour before going to bed.

• Eat well - 1) Eat lots of fiber-rich grains and vegetables;

2) Drink plenty of fluids;

3) Make meals social events.

• Exercise matters - Find at least one activity you like enough to do regularly - for instance, take brisk walks every day.

• Keep your mind sharp - 1) Try new recipes;

2) Work harder crossword puzzles;

3) Learn new skills.

Dr. Lee’s parting words are: “Your chronological age is not really that important. It’s your physiological and functional age that matter...I know 80 year olds who can look forward to having many years of good health, because they are fit and active and have tried hard to remain healthy.”

Thus, no matter your age, it’s never too late to work on having a long and healthy life, concludes the health letter.

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