The Aging Heart
The heart, one of the vital organs in the human body, is a powerful pump located behind and slightly to the left of the breastbone and between the lungs. It is a muscle about the size of your fist which contracts and expands using its own bio-electrical system, to continuously pump blood around the body in order to nourish and provide energy. The pumping of the heart is known as the cardiac cycle, which occurs about 72 times per minute and it pumps blood through network of vessels in the body.
Effects of aging
Heart functions begin to slow down with age. The aging process reduces the heart muscle strength. So its pumping power declines and the maximal heart rate (the highest number of times your heart can contract in a minute) also decreases. When the amount of blood pumped by the heart in a minute declines, systolic blood pressure tends to rise. Some of the common heart problems that can occur as we age are:
• Arteriosclerosis (hardening/clogging of the arteries due to excessive build-up of fat and cholesterol known as plaque). Fatty plaque deposits inside the blood vessels can cause it to narrow and totally block blood vessels and also cause the valves that control the direction of blood flow to thicken and become stiff. Arteriosclerosis in turn is the underlying cause of most cardio vascular diseases.
• The heart has to work harder due to decreased blood supply. Greater force is necessary to push blood through narrowed vessels due to plaque build-up. So high blood pressure develops and this buildup and shortage of oxygenated blood over time, leads to heart attacks. In a heart attack, a part of the heart muscle becomes starved for oxygen and dies.
• Angina (chest pain caused by temporarily reduced oxygenated blood flow to the heart muscle), causing pain in the chest, in the left arm or between the shoulder blades.
• Heart failure is very common in the elderly. In people older than 75, heart failure occurs 10 times more often than in younger adults.
• Abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias) of various types.
Probable reasons for the change...
Empirical findings have confirmed that, from forty through seventy, the five major risk factors for heart disease are family history, smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes and high blood pressure. But apart from family history and smoking, the others are related to diet, weight and inactivity. Directly, age is not a risk factor but people tend to put on weight and become more inactive as they age and a combination of other factors like continuing heart-unhealthy habits and diets takes its toll as people age and as such, age is a risk factor for the other risk factors.
Ways to delay effects of aging
Risk factors that you have some control over include high blood pressure, cholesterol levels, diabetes, obesity, and smoking.
'Atherosclerosis' once thought to be an aging disorder is now known to be a progressive narrowing of arteries over time which is fed by rich diets, high in cholesterol and fats and aggravated by smoking and high blood pressure. People who work out seriously and continuously for most of a decade has been seen to cut their age-related decline of maximal heart rate in half. So, maintaining a healthy diet and regular activity level and stopping unhealthy habits like smoking go a long way in controlling heart-related problems.
Age 35 is a good time to get your blood checked out, especially your cholesterol levels (a base level blood count and a full lipid profile) and blood pressure, and have a follow up every other year. Consider getting a 64 sliceCT – angiography scan at 40, if there is a strong incidence of heart disease or heart attack in your family. People aged 30 and older, who are more prone for a heart disease risk, like people having a sudden new pain, and those who are smokers and have a family history of diabetes or have diabetes should have a baseline ECG Test .
Heart disease often begins in childhood by consumption of heart unhealthy diets from a young age and fatty deposits getting accumulated in the arteries. A sustained low fat vegetarian diet which consists of fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, soya bean products and yogurt etc. along with regular exercise, stress management, non-smoking etc has been proved to even regress arterial fatty deposits of patients with heart disease. Dietary practices recommended to reduce the risk of heart disease include:
·Keep fat intake below 30 percent of your total calories. Try to avoid fried food stuffs and also food that contain excess fat such as beef, mutton etc.
·Within the recommended fat intake, less than 10 per cent should come from saturated fat. i.e 25 gm for women and 30gm for men. A slice of cheese, a pat of butter, one half cup of milk contains about 5gm of fat.
·50 to 60 per cent of your total calories should come from carbohydrates such as rice, bread, potatoes and pasta.
·Limit the cholesterol in your diet to 300milligrams or less, a day
·Reduce the amount of salt intake.
·Eat raw vegetables such as cucumber, carrot, tomato, onion etc as also foods with more fibre content.
Smoking and tobacco-related health complications are the single largest cause of preventable, premature death. The prime ingredients in cigarettes such as tar, carbon monoxide and nicotine are instigators of cardiovascular diseases and lung ailments.
Moderate exercise is one of the best things you can do to keep your heart and the rest of your body, healthy. Consult with your health provider before beginning a new exercise programme. Exercise moderately and within your capabilities, but do it regularly. Exercise helps reduce stress and prevent obesity which in turn is associated with the development of heart disease, diabetes etc. It also helps people with diabetes control their blood sugar.
The bible recorded seventy years to be our years on earth therefore ageing isn’t abnormality, but I think it will be wise to spend our days in good health by striving to guard our heart jealously. Till next week maintain a healthy heart.Share