How often do you think about your heart? If you don’t have a heart problem, chances are you don’t pay much attention to the muscle that keeps your body running. However, if you’re over age 65, you’re more likely to suffer a heart-related problem. Not only that, these heart issues—like heart attack, stroke, heart disease or coronary artery disease—can limit your activity and decrease your quality of life.
You might be surprised to learn these heart issues can occur even if you follow a healthy diet and exercise regularly. Changes to your heart as you age can put you at risk for developing heart disease or experiencing a heart attack, but there are things you can do to support heart health.
Age-related heart changes: While your heart rate doesn’t change as you age, your heart’s ability to beat faster during physical activity or during stress does. Heart disease is also a risk because fatty deposits can accumulate in your arteries as you age. The most common age-related heart change, though, is hardening of the arteries, which can cause high blood pressure.
It’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly because, even though you may feel fine, high blood pressure and hardening of the arteries often present no symptoms.
Other age-related heart changes include arrhythmias, which are changes to your heart’s electrical system. Arrhythmias can cause your heart to beat too fast, too slow or have an irregular heartbeat.
Your heart’s valves can also become thicker and stickier as you age. Valves control the blood flow to the chambers of your heart, and stiffer valves can limit the blood flow out of your heart, which can cause fluid accumulation in your legs, lungs or abdomen.
Heart disease and aging: There are several kinds of heart disease, but the most common is atherosclerosis, the accumulation of fatty deposits on your artery walls. As these fatty plaques accumulate, there is less room for blood to flow normally and deliver oxygen. Depending on where the lack of blood flow occurs in the body, it can cause heart attack, stroke or leg pain.
Early heart disease usually doesn’t have symptoms, which is why having regular checkups is important.
Some symptoms that may present when the disease is progressing include:
- Pain in the shoulders, arm, neck or jaw
- Chest pain during physical activity that improves when you rest
- Easily fatigued
- Swelling in your ankles, feet, stomach, legs or neck
Ways to keep your heart healthy: While you can’t stop the aging process, there are some simple things you can do to reduce your risk of heart disease and other heart ailments. These include:
- Being physically active for at least 30 minutes a day
- Quitting smoking
- Following a heart-healthy diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and foods that are low in fat and salt
- Keeping a healthy weight
Don’t wait until you experience symptoms to start paying attention to your heart. A few simple lifestyle changes can ensure your heart is as healthy as possible.