Your Heart Might Be Older Than You—Here's How To Protect It

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The average human heart will beat more than 2.5 billion times in its lifespan. Not to mention, the blood your heart pumps throughout your body will travel 12,000 miles in one day. To put that into perspective: That’s four times the distance across the United States from coast to coast!

“While your heart has remarkable capabilities, it also has limitations, especially as we age,” says Zain Azzo, M.D., a cardiologist for Henry Ford Health.

While people are living longer, and in many cases better than previous generations, your aging heart is more susceptible to damage. By the time you reach age 65, you’re at greater risk for heart disease, a heart attack and other related conditions including:

  • Heart failure: This is marked by the gradual weakening of the heart muscle and it's eventual loss of pumping ability.
  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib): This is the most common type of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat. Anyone can develop AFib, but it is much more common after age 60. Having AFib may increase your risk of heart failure and stroke.
  • Structural heart disease: This refers to any defect or abnormality in the heart’s structure, including the walls, valves and muscles. Structural heart problems are often present at birth, but can also develop with aging or as a result of other diseases.

So, if you’re looking to live far into your golden years, here are facts to know about your aging heart and some tips to keep it going strong.

Your “Heart Age” Versus Your Biological Age

If you’re 62 years old that means your heart is also 62, right? Not necessarily. Due to stress, poor nutrition, lack of exercise, environmental factors, injuries, genetics and more, your “heart age” may be older than the age on your driver’s license.

Want to find out the real age of your heart? Take our 5-minute Get Heart Smart Quiz.

The Difference Between Male and Female Hearts

Heart disease (also known as coronary artery disease) is the leading cause of death for both men and women. However, it can affect women differently due to several factors:

  • Physical differences: Women's hearts are smaller, beats faster and tend to have narrower blood vessels.
  • Endometriosis: Women who have had endometriosis may be at a higher risk for blocked coronary arteries.
  • Pregnancy: Conditions that can develop during pregnancy, including pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes, can put added stress on your heart.
  • Menopause: Changes in blood pressure can occur around the time of menopause which can put you at a greater risk for developing heart disease.

Steps To Minimize Your Risk Of Heart Conditions

The good news is that there are ways to slow down and potentially even reverse the effects on your aging heart. These include:

  1. Nutrition: Eat heart-healthy foods and consider a plant-based diet, which is especially good for your heart. Limit your salt intake and manage your blood sugar, especially if you have diabetes.
  2. Exercise: “It doesn’t have to be strenuous or even require a costly gym membership,” Dr. Azzo says. “The key is doing something that you love. For example, walking, yoga and gardening are excellent, low-impact ways to move your body. Just make it fun and it will be easier to make it a habit.”
  3. Weight management: Maintaining a healthy weight can lower your risk of developing heart conditions and other diseases. If you’re overweight or obese, even a moderate amount of weight loss can help.
  4. Blood pressure: Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with hypertension, a daily blood pressure reading with a home monitor is a great way to know if you’re at increased risk for developing it or related heart conditions.
  5. Stress: It’s no coincidence that more heart attacks happen on Mondays and during the holidays, which are some of the most stressful times we face. Stress can impact your aging heart, so add fun and calming activities to your routine, including ones that make you laugh.
  6. Alcohol: Minimize your consumption. Long-term drinking above the guidelines can cause issues with blood pressure, your heartbeat and even your heart’s structure. In addition, for people age 65 and older, alcohol has a stronger effect and stays in your system longer.
  7. Tobacco: If you smoke or use tobacco products, work on quitting.

“Although an aging heart is a normal part of life, you have far greater control over your heart health than you might realize,” Dr. Azzo says.

A healthier lifestyle, understanding your individual risk and a yearly heart check are important prescriptions for every age.

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To schedule an exam with a cardiologist, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-436-7936.

Dr. Zain Azzo is a cardiologist at the new Henry Ford Medical Center – Royal Oak.

Categories: FeelWell

Tags: Heart, Zain Azzo