Your heart is the most important muscle in your body. If it stops ticking, so do you. That’s why maintaining your heart health and taking the proper measure for heart care are so important, especially as you add on the years.
More than 600,000 people in America are killed by heart disease every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s 1 life claimed by cardiovascular disease every 36 seconds. Let’s take a look at how the heart functions, the changes it goes through as we age, and ways to help lower your risk of heart disease.
How the Heart Works
The heart is what pumps blood to every part of your body. It’s what makes your circulatory system run. The heart is split up into two parts to pump that blood: the left side and the right side. Each of those sides contains two chambers.
Each side of the heart and then each chamber all have a job to do. Here’s a breakdown of the process:
- Blood that doesn’t have enough oxygen flows through a coronary artery into the right atrium, which then pumps that blood into the right ventricle.
- In the right ventricle, the blood is pumped into the lungs, where it gets the oxygen it needs.
- The left atrium then receives the oxygenated blood from the lungs and pumps it into the left ventricle.
- The left ventricle then pumps the blood through the aortic valve to the rest of the body.
An electrical system in the heart maintains your pulse and helps coordinate the four chambers so they’re working together.
Heart Changes as You Age
Our bodies go through a lot of changes as we get older, and the heart is no exception. The main differences are in your heart itself and your vessels. These changes are what make people aged 65 and older more at risk of heart disease.
As you age, your heart can’t beat as fast as it could when you were younger. This is during times of stress, like during physical activity. There’s also an impact due to the buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries through the years. Then comes the biggest change: the hardening of the arteries, also called atherosclerosis. That can cause high blood pressure, which is one of the risk factors for heart disease (we’ll talk more about that further down the page).
Here are a few other potential changes to the heart that can come with age:
- Developing an arrhythmia – Remember the electrical system that controls your heartbeat that we mentioned earlier? Sometimes that system can change, which will cause your heart to beat faster, slower, or irregularly.
- Change in heart size – The chambers of your heart can get bigger, but your heart wall could also get thicker. That causes there to be less room for blood in the chambers.
- Salt sensitivity – We become more sensitive to salt as we get older. That sensitivity can lead to increased blood pressure.
Heart Disease Causes
Heart disease is the term for a collection of issues that cause heart problems, the most common of which being coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD affects blood flow to your heart.
So how is the blood flow to your heart changed?
The root cause of heart disease is called atherosclerosis. As mentioned previously, this is the buildup of fatty deposits called plaques in the walls of the arteries that surround your heart over many years. Those are called coronary arteries.
With all of that buildup, there’s less space for blood to flow to the heart, which means not as much oxygen and nutrients are getting there. When the blockage is bad enough, it can lead to chest pain or a heart attack.
There are several risk factors for heart disease that you need to keep under control.
High blood pressure is one of the big ones. Also known as hypertension, this is when blood is pumping too quickly through your arteries, which can damage the walls of the arteries, heart, kidneys, and more. There are usually no symptoms of hypertension, so getting a blood pressure test is the only way to know.
Another thing to pay attention to is your cholesterol. Cholesterol lets your body make vitamin D and some hormones and helps with digestion. If you have too much bad cholesterol, it contributes to those plaques that clog your arteries. Again, the only way to know if you have high cholesterol is to get a blood test.
Some other factors that increase your risk of heart disease are:
- Being overweight or obese
- Eating an unhealthy diet
- Not being physically active
Healthy Activities for Heart Care
When it comes to heart health, it’s all about minimizing your risk of heart disease.
If you smoke, you need to quit immediately. You can always benefit from giving up smoking, even if you have been doing it for years. Quitting right now lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Getting enough physical activity is another great step. You need at least 150 minutes every week. Split that up over the course of a week with some easy exercise.
A healthy diet combined with your new exercise routine further lowers your risk. Focus on things that are low in trans fats and saturated fats, sugars, and salt.
Both of those things will help you keep a healthy weight, which is also good for your heart.
Finally, make sure you’re keeping diabetes, high blood pressure, and your cholesterol under control. Your doctor can help you figure out the best way to manage those conditions.
Heart Health and Happiness
The best way to maintain your heart health and prevent heart disease is to live a healthy lifestyle. It’s never too late to change up how you’re doing things and improve your quality of life.
Keeping up with those healthy activities for heart care will keep your ticker in good shape, and you’re going to feel better overall. Don’t wait for something to go wrong. Talk with your doctor right now about what steps you can take to make a move towards Better Health.