Of the 550,000 people who die of cardiovascular disease every year, 82 percent of them are 65 and older. But staying heart healthy when you become a member of this age group is not an easy order. Over the years, your blood vessels and heart muscle become worn and damaged, even if you've taken exceptional care of your heart.

Here, four tips that will prolong your heart function to help you live a longer, fuller life.

Get moving. As with other age groups, exercise is crucial to an older person's heart-healthy routine. Researchers at John's Hopkins found that it can reduce metabolic syndrome, a condition that can increase your risk of heart disease, by 41 percent.[1]

Do right by your heart if you have diabetes. Researchers from Emory University studied a group of 6,000 people over the age of 65, 9 percent of whom had diabetes, and discovered that the diabetics were twice as likely to die from cardiovascular disease.[2] So if you have been diagnosed with the metabolic disorder, you should place a special emphasis on all things heart healthy—exercising at least 30 minutes a day, adhering to the DASH diet, getting regular checkups.

Go get some sun. A lack of adequate vitamin D is fast becoming a worldwide epidemic according to the International Osteoporosis Foundation.and has also been linked to cancer and heart disease, especially in older people due to the natural consequences of age and resulting lifestyle changes. Researchers from the University of Warwick examined the link between vitamin D levels and metabolic syndrome among nearly 3,300 Chinese volunteers ages 50 to 70. They found that 94 percent of their test subjects had a vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency and 42 percent of that group had metabolic syndrome.[3] The best source of vitamin D is the sun. People 65 and older can keep heart healthy by getting anywhere from 400 to 600 IUs of vitamin D daily. Fair-complected folks can get the right amount in just a few minutes of basking in the noonday sun; darker complexions may require 10 to 15 minutes or more. Consult your physician or dermatologist to figure out how much time in the sun you need.

Take your statins. A 2002 study conducted in England of approximately 6,000 men and women ages 70 to 82 found that a regimen of pravastatin reduced levels of bad cholesterol by about 30 percent and the incidence of heart attack and stroke, both fatal and nonfatal, fell by 15 percent.[4] So if your doctor recommends taking a statin to lower your cholesterol, heed his heart-healthy advice.


[1] Ling Lu, Zhijie Yu, An Pan, Frank B. Hu, Oscar H. Franco, Huaixing Li, Xiaoying Li, Xilin Yang, Yan Chen, and Xu Lin, Plasma 25-Hydroxyvitamin D Concentration and Metabolic Syndrome Among Middle-Aged and Elderly Chinese Individuals Diabetes Care July 2009 32:1278-1283; doi:10.2337/dc09-0209; http://care.diabetesjournals.org

[2] James Shepherd, Lancet 2002

[3] Kronmal RA, Barzilay JI, Smith NL, Psaty BM, Kuller LH, et al. (2006) Mortality in pharmacologically treated older adults with diabetes: The cardiovascular health study 1989-2001. PLoS Med 3(10): e400; www.plosmedicine.org

[4] Adit A. Ginde; Mark C. Liu; Carlos A. Camargo Jr., Demographic Differences and Trends of Vitamin D Insufficiency in the US Population, 1988-2004, Arch Intern Med, Mar 2009; 169: 626 - 632; http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/169/6/626?maxtoshow=