MD REVIEW

Effects of Aging Heart

Glory Days

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As a former high school athlete, Ryan fights the pressure to get physical with his grand­sons. While looking through old photos, they make a condescend­ing remark about his ancient track-and-field abilities. Ryan boasts that he could still give both of them a run for their money in a sprint. Why is this not a good idea?

He has been seeing the same primary care physician for 30 years, and tries to eat nutritious meals. But has not been exer­cis­ing as much as he should. At age 66, the last time Ryan ran track was before meeting his current doctor.

In addition to stiffer joints and heavier body weight, he now takes a prescrip­tion to control hypertension. So before having his grand­sons run circles around him, Ryan talks to his doctor about a physical fitness plan. Here are some of the things Ryan’s cardiology doctor shared with him.

Cardiovascular Changes

Blood vessels stiffen with aging. They cannot relax in pace with the rhythmic pumping of the heart. As a result, the blood pressure increases during each heart contraction. The abnormally high blood pressure during heart constriction and normal blood pressure during heart relaxation is a prevalent effect of an aging heart in older adults. Doctors call this condition isolated systolic hypertension. It is why Ryan takes medication.

Effects of Aging Heart

As we age, our heart undergoes changes. These changes affect bodies in many ways. The heart is the hardest working muscular organ. Unlike all the other muscles, it does not get any rest.

With nearly 3 billion heartbeats in the average lifetime, the heart starts showing signs of wear. The changes occur in everyone’s heart but not at the same rate. These heart-aging effects are due to decreasing elasticity and increasing cardio­vas­cular musculature stiffness.

The risk of heart failure and heart attack increases because of atherosclerosis in old age. This and other factors contribute to plaque formation in arteries. This waxy buildup narrows the arteries and decreases blood and oxygen supply to different organs and muscles of the body.

When the blood supply to the heart decreases, lack of oxygen damages the heart’s muscles, resulting in a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or failure.

The size of heart chambers increases, which enlarges the overall heart. However, the heart’s capacity decreases due to thicker heart walls. In old age, a heart pumps less blood per beat than in youth. The increase in heart size and thicken­ing of heart walls makes valves leaky.

Aging can affect the signaling system of the heart and cause arrhythmias. Arrhythmia is an abnormal pattern of heartbeats that is more prevalent in older people. Visit your physician if you feel that your heart is beating too fast or too slow. An untreated arrhythmia can lead to serious heart problems such as stroke and cardiac arrest.

Ryan’s Game Plan

Ryan’s cardiology physician is not trying to frighten him. But the talk does put his athletic capabilities into perspective. In fact, the doctor praised Ryan for having the wisdom to seek advice before overexerting himself. Together they put together a fitness plan that includes stretches and moderate walking.

As they monitor progress, Ryan looks forward to picking up the pace and perhaps jogging a little bit too. Combining strength training with moderate aerobic exercise while monitoring heartbeats is the goal. For now, Ryan just ignores the provocation of his grandsons, and lets his trophies speak for themselves.

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