Cardiovascular disease is the major cause of death and disability in the elderly. Atherosclerotic coronary heart disease, i.e. the hardening of arteries that carry blood to the heart, is the most prevalent problem, followed by hypertensive cardiovascular disease, which relates to high blood pressure.
The heart is essentially a pump, whose function is to push your blood through the arteries and veins in your body. The heart faces certain difficulties on its own as we age, but one of the biggest culprits to heart disease isn’t actually your heart: it’s your arteries. The more congested and hardened your arteries are, the harder your heart has to work to pump blood through your body.
While certain factors like genetics, lifestyle choices, and stress all play a role in heart disease, the fact also remains that decreased performance of the human heart as it ages is a natural process that we all face. The good news is that there are well documented steps that you can take immediately to start improving your heart health without the need for any medication. Please be aware however that it is also important to see your doctor regularly just in case medication is needed.
As we age, so does our heart. This has crucial consequences to our health and research shows a significant difference between various age groups in how aging affects the heart. For people aged 65 to 74, 40 percent of deaths are from heart disease, with it increasing to 60 percent for those over 80. From age 20 to 80, there is a 50 percent decline in the body's capacity for vigorous exercise. In your 20s, the maximum heart rate is between 180 and 200 beats per minute, but that rate decreases as you get older; average maximum heart rate for 80-year-olds is 145 per minute. A 20-year-old's heart can output three-and-a-half to four times the heart's resting capacity. An 80-year-old can output just two times resting capacity. This is why, as you age you should focus more on your heart health and remember to give yourself a break if you can no longer push yourself physically like you used to!
The heart naturally expands in size as we get older, too. This means that our 60-year-old hearts cannot contract or squeeze as tightly as they did when we were in our 20s. And there is also a loss of cells in the sinoatrial node, which is a specialized muscle fiber responsible for initiating the heartbeat. By 75 years of age, only ten percent of these cells that were present when a person was 20 years old remain. This is why the heart enlarges as we get older, because the remaining cells then need to expand to take on the job of the deceased cells. These changes occur in the absence of coronary artery disease; it is just a fact of life as we age.
Knowing that our hearts have to work harder as we get older to function shouldn’t be a reason to not care for our hearts as we age. There are behaviors and choices that are well-documented to age our heart prematurely and therefore can lead to an early — and preventable — death. The good news is that many of these choices are things that you have a reasonably large amount of control over.
Remember that your heart is only as healthy as your arteries. Arteries take oxygen-rich blood away from the heart and deliver it to the body. As we age, our arteries become stiffer and less flexible. This causes our blood pressure to increase. The heart has to adjust to the increase in blood pressure by pumping harder and changing the timing of its valves. These adjustments leave the heart more vulnerable. To stay young at heart, protect your arteries by nixing the aforementioned bad habits, and building up on these better ones.