If you are a senior citizen and over the age of 65, then this article on why heart health is important will, hopefully, ginger you to evaluate your heart health.
Heart health is a topic commonly relegated to the back burner until much later in life when the issue is brought to the fore front because of a health condition.
As you age, changes in the heart and blood vessels can occur which increase the risk of heart disease. This “umbrella” term applies to abnormal health conditions directly related to the heart.
This muscle called the heart is the centerpiece of your cardiovascular system and it remains hard at work throughout life.
Its failure can be linked to genetics (runs in the family) or triggered by a poor diet, smoking, lack of exercise or an infection.
More recently studies have shown that failure can also be linked to extreme emotional and stressful conditions (Glenn et al 2021). Promoting heart health of this human machine will therefore enhance and prolong an active lifestyle.
What Are Causes of Age-Related Changes to the Heart?
Aging can cause changes in the heart and blood vessels, although your heart rate does not change much with normal aging. Changes that occur with age may increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (heart disease).
Why is Heart Health so Important? – Plaque Deposits and Hardening of the Arteries
The most common aging change is arteriosclerosis – increased stiffness of the large arteries, caused by their hardening.
Plaque (fatty deposits) build up inside the walls of your arteries and, over time, hardens and narrows them, limiting the flow of oxygen-rich blood to your organs and other parts of the body.
Oxygen and blood nutrients are supplied to the heart muscle through the coronary arteries. Heart disease develops when fatty deposits build up in the coronary arteries, reducing blood flow to the heart muscle.
This gradually weakens and could damage the heart muscle over several years to cause hypertension (high blood pressure) which is more common in older adults. Regular checking of blood pressure is recommended and this can even be conducted at home with simple digital monitors.
Because risk factors vary from person to person, atherosclerosis is not necessarily a normal part of aging.
The term cardiovascular disease covers many diseases that directly affect the heart and the blood vessel system. It most especially affects the veins and arteries that lead to and from the heart due to fatty deposits.
It is believed that diets high in fats and reduced activity contribute to plaque. Sometimes, it appears more expedient to order readily available fast food (high in fats) than to spend time to cook during our already busy schedules.
Thankfully, an increasing number of people are becoming aware of the risks of heart disease and are being more careful in their choices. Furthermore, to address this change, many takeout outlets now offer healthy lifestyle salad dishes.
Thickening and Stiffening of Heart Valves
There are age-related changes in the electrical system that can lead to a rapid, slowed, or irregular heartbeat—arrhythmias This can cause the need for a pacemaker.
If valves become thicker and stiffer, they can
- limit the flow of blood out of the heart or
- become leaky
Both conditions can cause fluid to build up in the lungs or in other areas of the body such as the legs, feet, and abdomen.
Increase in Size of Heart Chambers
The chambers of your heart may increase in size while the heart wall thickens. This means that the amount of blood that a chamber can hold may decrease despite the increased overall heart size.
Long-time hypertension is the main cause of increased thickness of the heart wall, which can increase the risk of atrial fibrillation, a common heart rhythm problem in older people.
Another condition may arise because the heart may fail to fill up as quickly as it should.
Increased Sensitivity to Salt
With aging, older adults become more sensitive to salt, which may cause an increase in blood pressure and swelling in the foot or ankle (edema).
Thyroid disease or chemotherapy may also weaken the heart muscle. Risk of heart disease could also increase because of family history and genetics.
The good news is that leading a heart-healthy lifestyle may help avoid or delay serious illness.
Pay more Attention with Age – Why Healthy Heart is Important
Aging can cause changes in the heart and blood vessels that may increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease – problems with the heart and, or, blood vessels.
This is especially true of adults aged 65 and older who are not only more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease or heart failure, but also experience a stroke.
With aging, it is necessary to check your blood pressure regularly, even if you are healthy because aging changes in the arteries can lead to hypertension.
You may feel as if there is nothing wrong, but, if not treated, high blood pressure could lead to stroke and problems not only with the heart, but also with the eyes (NIA, 2018), brain, and kidneys.
Difference of Heart Disease Between Men and Women
While cardiovascular disease comprises several diseases that directly affect the heart and the blood vessel system, it presents slightly differently in men and women according to research.
Women who have cardiovascular disease usually suffer from the types that affect the blood vessels, while men usually suffer from types that affect the actual heart muscle.
Other known or associated causes of cardiovascular disease include diabetes mellitus, hypertension, and hypercholesterolemia.
Heart disease and stroke are other common cardiovascular diseases.
What are the Symptoms of Heart Disease?
Because heart disease is caused by internal atherosclerosis (plaque), there are usually no notable signs for many years. This is one good reason to get regular checkups at the doctor.
The coronary arteries surround the outside of the heart and supply nutrients and oxygen in the blood to the heart muscle.
When plaque builds up inside the arteries, there is less space for blood to flow normally and deliver oxygen to the heart.
If the flow of blood to your heart is reduced by plaque buildup or is blocked, a sudden rupture of plaques can cause
- chest pain or discomfort (angina) or
- a heart attack.
On the other hand, when the heart muscle does not get enough oxygen and blood nutrients, its cells will die (heart attack), weaken the heart, and diminish its ability to pump blood to other parts of the body.
Pay Attention to These Possible Signs of Heart Disease
The National Institute for Aging recommends that you immediately contact your doctor if you experience chest pain, pressure, or discomfort.
However, there are many other symptoms that can be tell-tale signs especially as the disease progresses.
It is no surprise that many of these symptoms. could also be caused by other medical condition. Nevertheless, it is always safe and wise to refer to a doctor if you have any of the symptoms below:
- Chest pain during physical activity that gets better when you rest
- Cold sweats
- Light – Headedness
- Pain and a numbness or tingling (or both) in the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw, or back
- A fluttering in the chest or a feeling that your heart is skipping a beat or beating too hard
- Shortness of breath during any level of activity or inactivity or while lying flat
- Frequent headaches
- Swelling in the ankles, feet, legs, stomach, and/or neck
- Tiredness or fatigue
- Reduced ability to exercise or be physically active
Medical Tests That May Be Prescribed for Heart Disease
Proper diagnosis can only be done by a doctor who will conduct or authorize several of the tests below, but there are a variety of home digital blood pressure monitors available for personal use
- Check your blood pressure
- Check your cholesterol,
- Request blood test to check the levels of proteins that are markers of inflammation in the body
- Request an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) to look at electrical activity in your heart.
- Ask for a chest x-ray as this will show whether your heart is enlarged, or your lungs have fluid in them
- Request for a blood test for brain natriuretic peptide (BNP) which is a hormone that increases in heart failure.
- May order an echocardiogram motion to evaluate your heart and valve functioning.
An understanding of why heart health is important is necessary to fully embrace the different ways to prevent or improve further deterioration. Another article looks at health tips for seniors through diet, lifestyle changes and mental balance.
Harvard Health Publishing – Heart Health https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/heart-health
American Association of Family Doctors (2017) Keeping Your Heart Healthy https://familydoctor.org/keeping-heart-healthy/
Sherwood C (2017) Importance of Heart Health https://healthfully.com/importance-of-heart-health-7538080.html
CardioSmart News 2021 Psychological Health – Good or Bad – Plays an Important Role in Heart Disease https://www.cardiosmart.org/news/2021/4/psychological-health-good-or-bad-plays-an-important-role-in-heart-disease
Glenn N et al (2021) Psychological Health, Well-Being, and the Mind-Heart-Body Connection: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association 2021;143:e763–e783 https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000947
National Institute on Aging (2018) Heart Health and Aging https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/heart-health-and-aging
National Institute on Aging (2018) Aging and Your Eyes https://www.nia.nih.gov/health/aging-and-your-eyes