Aging and the Heart: How to Keep up Good Cardiovascular Health
As we get older, our risk for a variety of cardiovascular conditions increases. It’s a fact that likely doesn’t come as a big surprise to many people—but that doesn’t mean the discussions aging patients need to have with their families and doctors get any easier. So what conditions should patients be keeping an eye out for and what questions should they bring to physicians as they advance in age.
To begin with, fatty deposits may build up on artery walls as people get older. These deposits can harden in a process called atherosclerosis. Furthermore, blood pressure may increase with age and this often comes without any symptoms. Researchers estimate around half of heart attack and stroke events may be associated1 with high blood pressure, or “hypertension.” Both the British National Health Service and US Department of Health and Human Services recommend2 that all people get their blood pressure checked regularly after turning 40, and sometimes3 even before this.
It’s important to understand that lifestyle influences your heart-age.
In addition, at rest people may not feel any differences in heart function, however during exercise or stress they might realize the heart cannot compensate like it could at a younger age. The risk of arrhythmia or heart failure can also increase, particularly after a heart attack or while having atherosclerosis.
“The most common arrhythmia that comes with age is atrial fibrillation, which is often associated with high blood pressure,” says Dr. Ilka Neumann, medical doctor and Director of Training and Education at BIOTRONIK. “But it can be felt like an irregular heartbeat when you take your pulse, so it’s possible for you to check for it and then ask your doctor about it. When detected, it’s a condition that can often be managed easily with a limited impact on a patient’s quality of life.”
In addition to checking regularly for any issues that may arise, many of the ways patients can lower cardiovascular disease risks as they age are well-documented. Some can be undertaken quite quickly with only a little effort. For examples of these, check out our last post on five quick tips for better heart health.
“It’s important to understand that lifestyle influences your heart-age,” says Dr. Neumann. “But even a 15-minute walk every day will help. If you have a dog, great! If you don’t, do a daily walk as if you had one. Keep everything else, like eating or drinking alcohol, moderate and balanced. Simple steps go a long way.”
1 High Blood Pressure. British Heart Foundation. https://www.bhf.org.uk/informationsupport/risk-factors/high-blood-pressure. Accessed 19 September, 2020.
2 Blood Pressure Test. National Health Service. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/blood-pressure-test/. Accessed 19 September, 2020.
3 Get Your Blood Pressure Checked. United States Department of Health and Human Services. https://health.gov/myhealthfinder/topics/doctor-visits/screening-tests/get-your-blood-pressure-checked. Accessed 19 September, 2020.