As You Age - Your Heart

By: Alere Staff

We can’t change our genetics or the process of aging, but there are steps you can do to make sure your body ages with health. While many aging myths have been proven wrong, it is hard to deny that your heart and cardiovascular system does undergo a few changes.

The Heart and Vessels

As you age, it is normal for your heart to enlarge slightly and to develop thicker walls, particularly in the left ventricle.1,2 The slight increase, though, can make a difference in your heart function. The amount of blood that the chambers of your heart can hold lessens and your heart may fill more slowly.2 If you are at rest, your heart will function similar to the way it did when you were younger. The big difference will be in the way it functions during movement and exercise. These changes mean that your heart cannot increase the amount of blood pumped out during movement the way a younger heart can.1

The other parts of your cardiovascular system go through changes as well. Heart valves can become stiff, creating conditions such as heart murmurs.2 Arteries of the cardiovascular system become thicker, developing more fibrous tissue and fat deposits along the walls.1,2 The walls of the vessels can also lose their elasticity, making it difficult for them to relax during the normal functions of circulation and creating a higher blood pressure.1 Even the smallest vessels, the capillaries, can be affected by age. With thicker walls, the capillaries may have a slower rate in exchanging nutrients and wastes between cells and organs.2

Your blood can also experience changes as you grow older. Normal aging can cause the amount of water in your body to lessen. The result is less fluid in your bloodstream and a decrease in your total blood volume. This can create a slower response to blood loss and anemia as the speed in which red blood cells are produced is less.2 Even your white blood cells can change just a little. Certain white blood cells that are important in your immune response, called neutrophils, decrease in number and reduce your ability to fight infection.You may not even feel these differences unless you develop a condition as a result of cardiovascular disease.

Ways to Help Your Aging Heart

Conditions like angina, heart failure, high blood pressure and stroke may be avoided if you make early lifestyle changes. Some ways you can take control of your health can be to focus on having a heart-healthy diet that contains little saturated fat and cholesterol. Also, try to maintain your weight as best as you can and start moving - moderate exercise is one of the best ways to keep your heart strong.2 If you smoke the best thing to do is quit. Smoking affects not only your heart, but also your lungs and other parts of your body.2 Make sure you follow up on regular check-ups with your physician, following through on any recommendations for treating any condition you may have such as high blood pressure or cholesterol. Finally, learn the signs and response methods for stroke and other cardiovascular events. While an event may never occur, it is good to be ready just in case.

Aging may not seem like a fun idea, but it shouldn’t get you down. Educating yourself on what happens to your heart and body can help you take action now and make sure that aging becomes the adventure it should come to be.

References:

  1. Shea, M.J., M.D. Effects of Aging on the Heart and Blood Vessels. Merck Manual. 2015. Retrieved from website: http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/heart-and-blood-vessel-disorders/biology-of-the-heart-and-blood-vessels/effects-of-aging-on-the-heart-and-blood-vessels.
  2. Hurd, R., M.D. et al. Aging Changes in the Heart and Blood Vessels. MedlinePlus. September 15, 2014. Retrieved from the website:https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/004006.htm.