The Heart of Healthy Aging

The heart has been the universal symbol of love since ancient times. As early as 1250, the heart shape appeared in medieval art and later emerged on a 15th century coin. It is believed the shape is modeled after an ancient plant once used by the Romans as medicine, spice and birth control!

The link is as strong today as it was then with new science revealing how being in love impacts heart health, lowers blood pressure and improves immunity. In fact, some studies show people in loving relationships have a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease.

What Happens To Your Heart With Age?

The biological clock also plays a leading role in matters of the heart. The natural aging process impacts all vital organs in the body, and the heart is no exception. As we get older, our risk for cardiovascular disease increases due to changes in cardiovascular structure and function .

While there are many types of heart disease, coronary heart disease is the most common . That’s because over time, plaque can build up inside the walls of the arteries, limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to organs. The condition is called arteriosclerosis and is the leading cause of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.

Other conditions associated with aging can increase risk of cardiovascular problems even more, including hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol (hyperlipidemia), diabetes and obesity.

Healthy Lifestyles and Heart Health

Age combined with other chronic illnesses may increase your risk of cardiovascular disease, but there are strategies you can use to manage or even prevent it to promote healthy aging.

While we can’t stop age-related changes in the body, a healthy lifestyle can mitigate some age-related decline in cardiovascular function. Specifically, a healthy diet and exercise are crucial to reducing our risk of cardiovascular problems, including stroke and heart attack.

For decades, researchers have linked physical activity and regular exercise to a reduced risk of heart disease, but until recently, there was little evidence that the level of activity offered more heart protection. While we know that low-impact activities like walking has a positive impact on heart health, more recent research shows higher levels of physical activity may provide even more protection against cardiovascular diseases. In short, the more exercise you get, the more protection you have against heart disease.

According to the CDC, there are significant health benefits associated with moderate-intensity physical activity such as walking, biking, swimming, and yoga.

To learn what level of exercise is best for you and your loved one, official guidelines are published by the U.S. Dept. of Health in the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans .


What Is A Heart Healthy Diet?

In addition to exercise, eating a healthy diet is a significant factor to maintaining heart health in older adults. As frequently as older adults hear exercise advice, dietary modifications are also commonly recommended by cardiologists for improving heart health and managing heart conditions.

A heart-healthy diet, or “cardiac diet,” is a nutrient-rich diet consisting of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean poultry, and fish, and low in saturated fats, sodium, and sugar.

While some older adults are required by their doctor to follow a special cardiac diet to manage heart conditions, research has shown it can also reduce the risk of heart disease. In short, a heart-healthy diet is good for everyone as a strategy for reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease!

So, what does a heart-healthy diet consist of? At the most basic level, a heart-healthy diet is best described as LOW in salt, sugar, fat, and alcohol, but HIGH in vegetables, protein, and fiber. Here’s why:

  • Salt – reducing salt intake helps lower blood pressure and may prevent hypertension.
  • Sugar – sugar raises blood glucose levels and can lead to weight gain and diabetes.
  • Fat – harmful fats increase LDL (bad) cholesterol in the bloodstream, which can cause blockages to form in the arteries.
  • Alcohol – too much alcohol can increase blood pressure, increase triglycerides (fat) in the blood, and cause unhealthy weight gain.

A heart-healthy diet is low in harmful saturated and trans fats, but may include some healthy fats like mono- and polyunsaturated fats, which can actually be good for your heart. Learn which foods have the “healthy” fats at

In general, dietary guidelines encourage a variety of whole and minimally process foods in the diet since processed foods are blamed for high levels of saturated fat, sodium, and sugar.

Healthy Eating Choices For Heart Health

At Sonata Senior Living, we rely on the experts for guidance related to nutrition and heart health.

According to the American Heart Association, a heart healthy diet comprises a variety of basic principles—each designed to help people reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

In addition to healthy lifestyle behaviors, following these evidence-based dietary guidelines can significantly promote cardiovascular health in people of all ages:

  • Eat a lot of fruit and vegetables and choose a wide variety
  • Eat whole grains instead of refined or white grains
  • Eat mostly plant proteins (legumes, nuts, seeds, etc.) instead of animal protein sources
  • When eating animal products, choose fish, lean cuts of meat, and low-fat dairy
  • Cook with liquid oils that come from plants (i.e. olive oil) instead of tropical oils and animal fats (butter)
  • Limit sugar intake, especially beverages with added sugar
  • Limit salt intake
  • Choose whole foods or minimally processed foods instead of ultra-processed foods
  • Limit alcohol consumption

Get the official dietary guidance on cardiovascular health at .

Find out more about senior nutrition essentials at Sonata Senior Living.

Healthy Weight For Heart Health

Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best heart disease prevention strategies within our control. While we can’t stop aging or change genetics, we can modify the diet to improve heart health.

Excessive weight and obesity makes the heart work harder and raises blood cholesterol, increasing risk of heart disease. A heart healthy diet lower in saturated fats also helps older adults maintain a healthy weight.

If you want to improve your health, look for the heart check mark on groceries next time you go shopping. The Heart-Check Mark Certification Program only certifies foods that meet the nutritional requirements established by the American Heart Association for acceptable levels of fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

Remember, everyone is different. Before altering any eating habits, be sure to talk to your doctor about any dietary concerns.

Cardiovascular Health Essentials

According to the American Heart Association, there are 8 scientifically proven factors that influence heart health. Known as “ Life’s Essential 8 ,” these include both health behaviors and health factors.

These factors establish basic guidelines for people to follow to minimize their risk of cardiovascular disease. The components of Life’s Essential 8 includes:

  • Healthy Diet
  • Healthy Weight
  • Physical Activity
  • Avoidance of Nicotine (No Smoking!)
  • Healthy Sleep
  • Healthy Levels of Blood Lipids
  • Healthy Levels of Glucose
  • Healthy Blood Pressure

Diet, weight, activity, smoking cessation, and even sleep quality are lifestyle determinants of long-term heart health. Blood lipids, glucose and pressure should be regularly evaluated by your doctor during wellness visits or more frequently if you are living with a chronic disease or illness.

Heart Health At Sonata Senior Living

If you are concerned about heart health, talk to your doctor about your medical history, risk factors, and the various tests used to diagnose heart disease.

If you are caring for someone with a chronic disease, download our free Practical Guide to Managing Heart Disease.

Sonata Senior Living communities offer a daily menu of life enrichment programming, activities, fitness classes and nutritional dining options to promote heart health in older adults. Schedule a tour at a Sonata Senior Living community near you.


Information provided on this page is for informational and educational purposes. The information provided should not be considered a substitute for individual medical assessment, diagnosis or treatment by your medical provider or physician. In you or someone in your care has a medical problem, contact your doctor or mental health provider.


Visit Sonata Senior Living and find out how personalized programming in assisted living promotes independence and well-being.