Onward To A Healthy Retirement
If you are over the age of 50, it is time to consider taking your risk factors to heart. With age, a myriad of changes take place, many of which can increase our risk for heart disease. While age as a risk factor may be non-modifiable, there are other components that come with the aging process within our control, such as exercising less as we get older or changes in social eating habits. It is important to identify these changes so we can continue to understand how to support our cardiovascular system through healthy lifestyle choices well into our days.
The cardiovascular system supplies our organs with the oxygen and nutrients they need so they can do their job. Overtime this becomes less efficient, which can have a negative impact on the organs. Our arteries become stiffer and thicker and this is often reflected by an increase in blood pressure. With this thickening of the arterial wall comes increased resistance to blood flow, which is heightened further when there is injury to the blood vessels from toxins present (from cigarette smoking, for example). To overcome this increased blood flow resistance, our heart must pump with greater force, putting extra strain on the cardiac muscle.
As we age, we may also see the heart wall thicken, which puts us at risk for atrial fibrillation and other arrhythmias. A particular change that occurs in women alone is menopause, which can induce estrogen withdrawal. Estrogen withdrawal may cause a domino effect of other issues that can lead to heart disease due to changes in body fat distribution from a gynoid (around the hips) to android (around the waist) pattern, a reduced glucose tolerance, potential changes in cholesterol levels, and vascular inflammation due to the hormonal changes taking places within the bodies. These changes can raise blood pressure, alter cholesterol levels and cause easier weight gain, all of which can compromise the cardiovascular system. The cumulative stress on the heart and structural changes that take place can drive up the likelihood of obesity, diabetes, and frailty, which can ultimately result in heart disease.
These effects draw attention to why it is important to pay attention to our heart health as we age. It is never too late to start taking steps toward heart-healthy choices to combat the negative effects the aging process can have on the body. Aerobic exercise, healthy nutrition, stress management, smoking cessation and quality sleep all have an ability to counteract the pathological processes thought to contribute to age-related heart disease and heart failure. Exercise alone has been proven to reduce inflammation, improve the muscles’ ability to pull oxygen out of the blood, reducing the need for the heart to pump as often, and reduce stress hormones which can put an extra burden on the heart. Essentially, we can think of exercise as a beta blocker medication in the sense that it helps slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure. When it comes to nutrition, eating foods high in fiber and low in saturated fats can help prevent high cholesterol, which will reduce the likelihood of plaque buildup on our now-thickened arterial walls. By making consistent healthy choices in how we fuel with food, move, and treat our bodies, we can decrease the likelihood that cardiovascular disease will become a major health concern as we get older, allowing us to live more independently and focus on spending quality time with loved ones. While age is a given, cardiovascular disease doesn’t always have to be. As stated earlier, it is never too late to start controlling what you can control, and we are here to support you every step of the way along your journey to a heart-healthy life.