As we get older there are age-related changes that may affect our heart and blood vessels. Blood vessels in an aging heart become more rigid and less elastic which can lead to high blood pressure. Arteries can become blocked by plaque which can increase the risk for heart attack or stroke and the aging heart pumps less efficiently which can increase the risk for heart failure.
“Unfortunately women are particularly vulnerable to age-related heart disease,” notes Dr. Lehmitz, an Internal Medicine Physician at the Salt Lake Senior Clinic. “At menopause, the risk of heart disease and stroke begins to rise, partly because the woman’s body is no longer producing the hormone estrogen,” he explains.
Hereditary risk factors you can’t control
- A genetic predisposition for high cholesterol
- A genetic predisposition for high blood pressure
- A family history of diabetes (which increases the risk for heart disease)
- An early history of heart disease and heart attack in immediate family members
Risk factors you can control
High Blood Pressure
High blood pressure tells your doctor that your heart is working extra hard to move blood through your arteries. This can lead to a higher risk of developing heart problems, stoke and kidney problems. Normal blood pressure for an adult is about 120 over 80 mm/Hg. Most high blood pressure can be controlled with diet, exercise and medication. “It is critical that aging adults get their blood pressure checked on a regular basis,” recommends Dr. Lehmitz.
Heart and blood vessel disease is the #1 cause of death in smokers worldwide. Smoking damages the lining of the arteries and promotes plaque build-up. This build-up can lead to heart attack and stroke.
Only 44% of American adults get some exercise. Another 28% aren’t active at all. Exercise can help lower high cholesterol and high blood pressure, improve blood flow through the body, increase muscle strength and improve lung function.
Weight & Diet
Excess weight raises LDL (bad) cholesterol and lowers HDL (good) cholesterol. Overweight adults are at increased risk for high blood pressure and more likely to develop diabetes. “The food we eat has a huge impact on our overall health. A healthy high fiber, low fat and low salt diet can reap significant health benefits for the aging heart,” states Dr. Lehmitz.
This article written by Paul Lehmitz, MD
Senior Medicine – Salt Lake Senior Clinic