Are You Aging Too Fast?

Odds are you look and feel younger than your mother did at the same age. But you could probably be doing even better

by Meryl Davids Landau
face of woman on hourglass body illustration image
Photograph: The Heads of State

B) Your father or brother had a heart attack before age 55, or your mother or sister had one before age 65
If you have one parent or sibling who suffered from heart disease, you are twice as likely as women without that history to experience a heart attack; your risk quadruples if two close relatives had heart disease. The good news: Inherited risk factors for heart disease, such as a propensity for hypertension or high LDL (bad) cholesterol, can often be significantly ameliorated with medication.

TOTAL B’s: _____

If you checked one or more B’s, keep reading for slow-down-the-clock strategies.

Your Action Plan
Because your heart is a muscle, you can strengthen it through aerobic workouts: The American Heart Association suggests doing, each week, at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise (such as brisk walking) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise (such as running). “If you exercise regularly and don’t have any underlying heart disease, your heart can actually become more efficient with age,” notes Moreno. “An older person can have the heart of a very young person.” Aerobic workouts will lower your heart rate and improve your heart-recovery rate.

In addition, a study in the September issue of the American Journal of Medicine confirmed the wisdom of eating a diet packed with plant-based foods. Over a 10-year period, women with the highest intake of heart-healthy antioxidants—they averaged seven servings of fruits and vegetables a day—experienced 20 percent fewer heart attacks than those who ate just 2.4 daily servings.

Here are other good ways to improve your circulatory system: 

Eat more low-fat yogurt
In research presented at an American Heart Association meeting this fall, adults who consumed six ounces of low-fat yogurt at least every three days over a 15-year period were significantly less likely than others in the study to develop high blood pressure. The finding is important because hypertension, defined as a reading of 140/90 mm Hg and above, tends to increase with age and is dangerous if not treated: It boosts your risk of heart attack and stroke threefold. Why would yogurt benefit your arteries? “It could be because dairy products are high in potassium, and we know that potassium has a blood-pressure-lowering effect,” says Rachel Johnson, PhD, RD, professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Vermont in Burlington. “Potassium lessens the effects of sodium on blood pressure,” she explains.

Up your C  
In trials lasting eight weeks on average, taking about 500 milligrams (mg) of vitamin C was associated with a reduction in blood pressure of 3.84 mm Hg for healthy subjects and 4.85 mm Hg for hypertensive ones—much less than the typical 10 mm Hg dip that comes from taking blood pressure drugs such as ACE inhibitors and diuretics but still clinically significant. Cautioning that the results are preliminary, the Johns Hopkins researchers speculate that vitamin C acts like a diuretic, helping the kidneys remove more water and sodium so blood vessel walls relax and lower blood pressure.

Change your oil
If you’re up for cooking every day with a fairly exotic blend of oils—a mix that’s 20 percent sesame oil and 80 percent rice-bran oil—then you might dramatically lower some of your risk factors for heart disease, according to a just-published study. After two months of frying or otherwise cooking with an ounce a day of this blend, hypertensive adults saw a 26 percent drop in LDL cholesterol and a 9.5 percent increase in HDL, the good kind. Their blood pressure also fell 14 points. The high antioxidant content of these two oils is probably responsible for the health benefits, says lead author Devarajan Sankar, MD, a research scientist in the department of cardiovascular disease at Fukuoka University Chikushi Hospital in Chikushino, Japan. If you can’t find these oils at your local supermarket, go to Amazon.com.

Quiz 2: Your Bones

1. How much alcohol do you drink?

First published in the December 2012/January 2013 issue

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