Aging is an inescapable reality of life. One day, you’ll have to deal with signs of aging like graying hair and wrinkles.
Each aspect of your health will also change as you grow older.
Sometimes, it’s hard to discern if the changes you experience are something you should be worried about, or if they are simply part and parcel of the whole aging process.
Well, that’s par for the course when it comes to your cardiovascular health. We’ll discuss precisely what cardiovascular changes you should expect as you age, and what to do about it to promote a healthy heart regardless of what your age is.
Here’s How Your Ticker Changes with Age
The aging process may cause certain changes in the cardiovascular system – particularly the heart and the blood vessels. Oftentimes, it is the product of years of struggle with hypertension and buildup of plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis).
As you get up there in years, your heart rate declines during physical activities or during stressful situations compared to when you were younger. That is, your heartbeat can’t keep up and pump blood and oxygen as fast as it should during exertion.
Your resting heart rate, on the other hand, doesn’t change a whole lot over the normal course of aging, although its ideal values change by age.
Age-related changes can increase a person’s risk of contracting cardiovascular disease.
Arteriosclerosis, or the stiffening of the walls of the arteries, is one of the most common changes that occur as people age, and it’s a major cause of heart disease. This is a condition wherein deposits of fat accumulate in the artery walls over the years, which hardens them.
Other Age-Related Cardiovascular Changes
Aging causes a whole slew of changes to your cardiovascular system. Some of the most common ones include the following.
Changes in the electrical “wiring” of the body, so to speak, may cause an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. While it must be noted that there are some totally benign arrhythmias, there are also harmful ones. Ventricular fibrillation comes to mind, wherein the lower chambers of the heart cannot properly and efficiently pump blood to your organs.
Another risk arrhythmias pose is the danger of blood clots. Blood tends to clot when it remains in one spot for too long, and when arrhythmia stops and normal heart function returns, the clot can be propelled to the rest of the body. Danger ensures if it is propelled into the brain, which causes a stroke.
Furthermore, the valves that control the blood flow through the chambers of the heart may thicken as you age, which limits the blood flow going out of the heart. This may lead to the accumulation of fluid, which can mean serious trouble for adults who have a history of heart failure.
Thickening of the heart walls
Another age-related cardiovascular change to look for is an increase in the size of the heart’s chambers. As the heart wall thickens through time, the blood capacity of the heart chamber may decrease.
Lifelong hypertension is seen as the main cause of thickened heart walls, leading to an increased risk for atrial fibrillation – a common rhythmic problem of the heart in older adults.
Increased sensitivity to sodium
Aging also makes adults prone to the effects of sodium, which can cause edemas in the ankles or feet, as well as an increase in blood pressure.
What you can do
Fortunately, there are more than a few lifestyle changes you can implement to decrease the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
- Get regular exercise.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Quit smoking if you do, and don’t begin if you don’t.
- Stress less.
- Get enough quality sleep.
It’s important to note that many of the changes that your heart undergoes are perfectly normal in the bigger scheme of things, as far as the natural aging process is concerned. It’s nothing to worry about unless you have a history of heart disease running in your family, or other factors such as preexisting illnesses, or if you are undergoing or have undergone chemotherapy.
Make it habit to remain vigilant, and make the necessary changes you need to ensure your ticker remains in tiptop shape, no matter your age.