Creating a heart-healthy approach to life may be one of the best investments you can make in your future. And keeping your heart healthy is important as you age.
Here some ways to tell if your heart is healthy — now and in the future.
For most adults, the normal resting heart rate is between 60 and 100 beats per minute. Factors like stress, anxiety, medication and how physically active you are can affect your heart rate.
You can tell how fast your heart beats by feeling your pulse. Your heart rate is the number of times your heart beats in one minute.
Ask your health care professional what your resting heart rate should be. Lower can be better, as long as it remains above 60. It may mean your heart muscle is in good condition and doesn’t have to work as hard to maintain a steady beat.
If you’re able to perform moderate-intensity physical activity, such as brisk walking, without chest pain or tightness or difficulty breathing, it may mean that your cardiovascular system is supplying your body with the oxygen it needs.
“If my patients are going out and walking or exercising and not getting any chest pressure or shortness of breath, that tells me a lot about how healthy their heart is,” says John Lee, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at Texas Health Heart & Vascular Specialists, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice in Plano.
By shortness of breath, Dr. Lee isn’t talking about breathing hard while pushing yourself during exercise.
“If you feel like your breathing makes you stop doing something, like you’re gasping for air and can’t catch your breath, that’s an indication something might be wrong,” he notes. “Shortness of breath while lying down may also indicate a cardiac issue.”
Another sign of heart health is having good energy levels throughout the day.
If you have a tired feeling all the time and difficulty with everyday activities, such as shopping, climbing stairs, carrying groceries or walking, you may be experiencing fatigue. This could be a sign of heart disease such as heart failure. Your heart might not be pumping enough blood to meet your body’s needs.
Snoring at night or daytime fatigue could be signs of sleep apnea, which can increase the risk of high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm.
“If you find you’re getting fatigued and want to take a nap in the afternoons, that could be a sign something is wrong,” Dr. Lee says.
Not getting enough sleep, sleeping poorly and sleep disorders have been linked to a higher risk for heart disease as well as to several major heart disease risk factors, such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, according to a 2016 scientific statement from the American Heart Association.
Recent study findings also suggest that people who got less than six hours of sleep had a 25 percent greater risk of having poor cardiovascular health, while those with obstructive sleep apnea experienced a more than 200 percent greater chance of poor heart health than those who slept longer.
Having normal blood pressure is a sign of a healthy heart. Normal blood pressure is below 120/80 mm Hg. High blood pressure is a systolic pressure of 130 or higher, or diastolic pressure of 90 or higher, that stays high over time.
The only way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure measured. Your health care provider can check it for you. Or you can monitor your blood pressure at home. But home monitoring is not a substitute for regular visits to your physician.
Dr. Lee recommends getting a home blood pressure monitor to take measurements on a regular basis because high blood pressure increases the risk for heart attack and stroke, and often has no symptoms.
“Your blood pressure might be elevated and you may not notice anything until you have a heart attack or stroke,” he says.
Good oral health may also indicate a healthy heart. Recent studies found patients with healthier gums have lower blood pressure, and people with healthier gums responded better to blood pressure-lowering medications.
A 2021 study found adults with severe gum disease may be more likely to have high blood pressure, independent of common cardiovascular risk factors.
Another study suggested that people who said they brushed less than twice a day for less than two minutes had a threefold increased risk of having or dying from a heart attack, heart failure or stroke.
Don’t Skip Regular Screenings
Maintaining regular visits with a primary care physician or a cardiologist is key to monitoring heart health and detecting any problems early.
“At a minimum, get your annual physical,” Dr. Lee says. “Even if you’re healthy, there are still things your physician can look for and screening for.”
He encourages patients to call him any time they experience new symptoms or have questions.
“It’s better to be safe than sorry,” he stresses. “The long-term effects to your heart health can be much worse if you wait or prolong your care than if you seek help right away.”
Indigestion or acid reflux that doesn’t go away with medication or worsens over time may signal a larger problem. Symptoms of heart disease can mimic other health issues, making them easy to overlook, according to Dr. Lee.
“It may show up as back pain or indigestion,” he notes. “We always talk about chest pressure, but a lot of people don’t experience that.”
“Having a good relationship with your health care professional is important to getting the best care. You should never feel like you don’t have time to ask questions or feel intimidated,” he adds.
Texas Health Physicians Group providers are employed by Texas Health Physicians Group and are not employees or agents of Texas Health Resources hospitals.