Dear Dr. Kander:
My dad is just getting ready to complete his cardiac rehab at a skilled nursing and rehab center in Columbus. He had terrible eating habits and was leading a fairly sedentary life before his heart attack.
Now that he is almost ready to be discharged and return to his home, I’d like to do whatever I can to make sure he stays on a healthy track.
Do you have any suggestions that might help?
Helping a Parent Protect their Heart
What a great question! And a timely one. February is Heart Health Month. It’s a yearly awareness campaign created to alert people to the risk factors for heart-related illnesses and to encourage them to take steps to protect their heart.
As your father probably learned during his rehab stay, lifestyle plays an important role in heart health. In addition to staying active, there are other choices he can make that may help him protect his heart.
- Breakfast of champions. Many people skip breakfast entirely or consume a sugary pastry or cereal. But a healthy breakfast helps us feel full longer. This lessens the chance of overeating later or reaching for quick, unhealthy comfort foods. Starting the day with a bowl of oatmeal is a great source of protein and cholesterol-fighting fiber.
- A plant-based diet. This one is often less popular with seniors who may have grown up on a meat-and-potatoes diet. We now know that adopting a plant-based diet can help keep your heart healthier longer. Research shows that people who follow a Mediterranean Diet or the Dash Diet have fewer occurrences of heart disease.
- Stay active. Since you mentioned your father lived a sedentary life before his heart attack, helping him find ways to stay active will also be important. Make sure you discuss senior-friendly forms of exercise with your father’s physician and his physical therapy team before he is discharged. They can help you explore potential options he might enjoy and that will keep him motivated.
- Limit sodium. It isn’t uncommon for older adults to rely on convenience foods at meal times. But fast food, frozen dinners and even canned foods can be extremely high in sodium. Help your dad learn more about sodium and the unlikely places it might be sneaking into his diet, like in ketchup, cereal and deli meats.
Our final tip is to encourage him to maintain a daily journal. Ask him to write down what he eats throughout the day, as well as how much and what type of exercise he completed. Knowing he will be documenting his choices each day might help him stay on track.
Best of luck to your father as he continues his recovery, Steve!