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Keep your heart young, don't let it age too fast

Keep your heart young, don't let it age too fast

The heart is the blood-pumping station of our body. The size of a normal heart is equal to a clenched fist. A car cannot run without an engine. In the same way, your body cannot function without this organ.

We can visualize the human heart as one with two halves, each with a top (atrium) and a bottom chamber (ventricle). The right-sided half pumps deoxygenated blood to the lungs. The left-sided half takes the oxygenated blood from the lungs and circulates it via arteries throughout the body.

Our heart's electrical system controls the heart rate and coordinates the contraction and relaxation of the heart's top and bottom chambers.


How does your heart age?


The conditions like heart attack, stroke, and coronary heart disease are often a disease of old age and are common in people above 65 years. Every year millions of elderly suffer disabilities and mortalities due to various cardiovascular diseases. India has more younger cardiovascular disease patients.

With age, heart and blood vessels undergo several changes. When you get older, your heart cannot beat as fast during physical activity or when stressed as it once could when you were young. However, the heartbeats per minute at rest do not show significant variations with normal aging.

Some changes with age may increase your risk of heart disease.

As we grow older, our arterial walls may become stiff or hardened (arteriosclerosis). It is often associated with hypertension (high blood pressure), a common condition among the elderly.

The most common cause of age-related heart disease is the buildup of fats in the arterial walls over many years. This plaque built up over time hardens and narrows your arteries, thus limiting the supply of oxygen-rich blood to other parts of your body. The coronary arteries supply oxygen and blood nutrients to the heart muscles. When this plaque buildup happens in the coronary arteries, it reduces blood flow to the heart muscles, causing weakened or damaged heart muscles, thus making us more prone to heart failure. Chronic hypertension, diabetes, and heavy alcohol consumption can further aggravate heart damage.


Aging can also impact the heart's electrical system leading to arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat (rapid or slowed) and may need pacemaker insertion.


Pollution and the after effect of the Covid-19 also add to heart diseases.


Heart valves, or the one-way doors of the heart, get opened and closed to control blood flow between the heart chambers. With age, these heart valves may become stiffer and thicker, thus limiting the blood flow in and out of the heart. Sometimes the valves may become leaky. The nonfunctioning or reduced functioning of valves can cause fluid accumulation in different body parts, such as the lungs, abdomen, head, and feet.

Sometimes, the size of the chambers of your heart may increase. As the heart wall thickens with age, the blood a heart chamber can hold may reduce despite the increased heart size. High blood pressure or hypertension can cause increased heart wall thickness which can cause abnormal heart rhythm in older people.

With age, your heart becomes sensitive to salt, and you may experience increased blood pressure with ankle or foot swelling.

Sometimes thyroid disease and chemotherapy may also weaken your heart muscles.


How can I keep my heart healthy?


A physically active lifestyle


You can take the advice of a professional and create a workout regimen accordingly. Aim for at least 150 minutes of weekly physical activity. You can divide this 150 minutes over five to six days a week.

You can start with activities you enjoy. It can be brisk walking, bowling, dancing, cycling, or gardening. Do not spend your entire day sitting. Exercise is like a vaccine for cardiovascular health.


Quit smoking


Both active and passive smoking is dangerous to your health. Smoking is one of the leading causes of preventable mortality. Regular smoking can increase your probability of damaged arterial walls. Even if you stop smoking today, it is never too late. The day you stop smoking, you can immediately decrease your probability of developing heart disease, cancer, and stroke.


Heart-healthy diet


A healthy diet is essential for a healthy heart. Gorge on foods low in saturated fats, salts, and added sugars. As we age, salt moderation becomes mandatory. Excessive salt intake can cause swelling in the ankles, legs, and feet. Some healthy eating habits are:

  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.
  • Have food rich in fiber, such as made from whole grains.
  • Consult a dietician to get the best diet as per your taste buds.
  • Maintain a healthy body weight.

Balance your calorie intake with your physical activity to achieve healthy body weight. Limit your portion size and divide your meals throughout the day.


Manage your chronic conditions


Follow your doctor's advice and prescriptions to have control over chronic conditions like:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol


Limit your alcohol consumption


For men, alcohol consumption should not be greater than two drinks. For women, it is one drink. But it is not to take alcohol.

One drink is:

  • A 12-ounce bottle of canned beer or ale
  • An 8 to a 9-ounce bottle of malt liquor
  • A 5-ounce glass of wine
  • A 1.5-ounce shot glass of distilled spirits like gin, rum, tequila, vodka, or whiskey


Manage stress


Stress management is one of the critical elements of a healthy heart. Try breathing and relaxing exercises. Some stress-buster techniques are:

  • Joining a stress management program
  • Meditation
  • Regular physical activity
  • Discuss your problems with friends or family.


The Conclusion


Like every other organ, our heart also ages. Some of the age-related changes in the heart are:

  • The natural pacemaker or the sinoatrial or SA node loses some of its cells, causing a slightly slower heart rate.
  • A slight increase in the size of the heart
  • Thickening of the heart wall
  • Abnormal rhythms or arrhythmias
  • Degeneration of heart muscle cells
  • Thickening of the valves inside the heart

Though it is difficult to stop aging effects on the heart, a healthy lifestyle and diet can slow the rate of development of these changes. Manage chronic lifestyle conditions like diabetes and go for regular health checkups as suggested by your doctor.

Dr Ajay Kumar Sinha
Cardiac Care
Meet The Doctor
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