How the Heart Changes with Age
As we age, we notice subtle changes in our bodies. Perhaps that stiff joint happens more frequently and more quickly, and it causes us to slow down a little bit. Maybe we get tired from daily activities sooner and try to scale back or ask for extra help. These physical changes are gradual, but usually noticeable.
The effects of aging on the heart are sometimes less obvious. However, changes in the heart and the rest of the circulatory system naturally occur as we age just as much as changes in the rest of the body. Understanding the changes in the heart and knowing how to support and strengthen your heart plays a key role in healthy aging.
How does the heart change with age?
Over time, several changes lead to a difference in heart rate and blood pressure. The heart slightly increases in size and the heart walls thicken, which results in a heart that fills with blood more slowly than a younger heart. Additionally, the system that controls the pace of your heart slows down slightly. These differences lead to slight changes in the rhythm of an aging heart, which can be seen on an ECG.
As the circulatory system ages, different parts get thicker, which makes our bodies and our hearts work harder to keep up. Artery walls thicken, resulting in a moderate increase in blood pressure. The receptors that adjust blood pressure as activity levels increase or decrease become less sensitive and do not react as quickly. You may notice this change when you get dizzy more easily standing up or when you take longer to recover after strenuous exercise.
Keeping the heart healthy
All these changes are normal effects of the aging process, and there are plenty of ways to help your body age in a healthy and active manner. Strengthening your heart and keeping it in great shape is an important part of health as you age. Make it your goal to manage any risk factors that are somewhat in your control. That includes things like high blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, diabetes, and smoking. Focus on healthy eating and exercise to keep your body working at its best.
A heart healthy diet is heavy on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Reduce saturated fats and cholesterol. Look for delicious and interesting dishes to add to your menu rather than focusing on the food you are trying to avoid. Eating a heart healthy diet also helps control your weight, combat obesity, and manage diabetes—all risk factors for heart disease.
Keep your body moving. Instead of dreading time at the gym, find activities you enjoy as your workout. Whether a brisk walk, bike ride, or a game of tennis with a friend, incorporating movement into your everyday life will reap rewards for your body, mind, and mood. Exercise within your ability and aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise most days of the week. In addition to being great for your heart, it helps maintain your current physical abilities, manage diabetes, and reduce stress.
Regular checkups with your doctor to monitor your blood pressure, cholesterol, and overall heart health are an important part of healthy aging. Maintaining communication and following your doctor’s advice on taking any prescribed medications as directed can prevent or minimize future heart problems.
As you age, think of your heart and ways you can strengthen and support it. Many of the things we do to maintain heart health support healthy aging in general. Enjoy a healthy diet and an active lifestyle. Schedule an appointment with an Oklahoma Heart Hospital physician for your regular checkups and to monitor any risk factors you might have.