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Aging Heart

Our 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 arHeartound the body 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.  

The heart lies at the centre of these complicated network of blood vessels which include arteries and veins. The left side of the heart  receives oxygen filled blood from the lungs and pumps it out through the 'arteries' around the body and the right side receives used up-blood containing carbon dioxide through the 'veins' and sends this blood to the lungs to get rid of the carbon dioxide and take in fresh oxygen. 

The heart, in the simplest terms, consists of four chambers, two atria (upper chambers) and two ventricles (lower chambers).  As the muscles of the heart relax, blood (oxygen filled blood from the lungs and carbon dioxide filled blood from the rest of the body) enters its various chambers. The atrium fill with blood and help move blood into the ventricle. The ventricle supplies the main force that pumps the blood out, through either the lungs or to the rest of the body.  As the blood enters the heart, Flaps called valves close quickly to stop any blood leaking backwards and thus control the direction of blood flow. There are four valves; mitral and the tricuspid between the atria and the ventricles and other two, aortic and pulmonary through which blood enters and leaves the heart.

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 cause it to narrow and can 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.

•   Dissecting Aneurysm:  The atherosclerosed aorta becomes brittle and can break much easier creating a life threatening situation.

•  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...
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. Apart from cholesterol; stress and the presence of Lp (a), a lipoprotein; homocysteine, an obscure amino acid ; and triglycerides, a compound of fats in the blood are also involved in the development of heart diseases. Your triglyceride levels tend to rise from forties through sixties. The higher the levels of triglycerides, the higher the probability of reduced levels of good cholesterol (HDL). The body also converts the cellular carriers of triglycerides into forms of bad cholesterol (LDL).

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. 

Check ups
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 CT 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 .

Minimize or quit smoking. 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. Tips to Quit smoking

Eat a heart-healthy diet with reduced amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol and rich in unrefined, complex carbohydrates. Heart disease often begins in childhood by consumption of heart unhealthy diets from a young age and fatty deposits getting accumulated in the arteries. Lesions in the arteries often appear in young people following this unhealthy regimen. 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 includes

  • 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% 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%  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. Eggs, meat and diary products are major sources of cholesterol. One egg yolk contains about 220 milligrams of choleterol.

  • Reduce the amount of salt intake.

  • Eat raw vegetables such as cucumber, carrot, tomato, onion etc as also foods with more fibre content.  More on Diet

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 program. 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.

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. Between ages 40-50 check out your VO2 max, the maximum rate at which the muscles use oxygen during peak exercise.  The old standard for calculating your target heart rate is (220- your age) x .85. For good cardio fitness, it is advisable to exercise aerobically 90 minutes per week minimum. Read more on Exercise

Alcohol (Ethyl alcohol or ethanol) made out of Fermented grain, fruit juice and honey is a depressant, and if taken in small amounts relaxes the mind and reduce anxieties. More and more studies have shown that ethanol increases levels of HDL cholesterol (the good stuff) , dilates blood vessels and keeps blood from clotting. But no more than two drinks per day is beneficial and more than that could be detrimental for health. Tips to reduce alcohol intake

Note : All statements given are only for information purpose. We are not responsible or liable for any problems related to the utilization of information on this site. We suggest that you consult a qualified doctor before trying any alternative health care remedies.