Natural Age-Related Changes to the Cardiovascular System

There is an often-used cliché that nothing last forever. That truism applies to the human body. Over time, it is fair to say that the human body begins to wear out. This includes the cardiovascular system. In this article, we discuss natural age-related changes to the cardiovascular system that ultimately will affect all of us, at least to some degree.

The purpose of this article is not to examine extraordinary issues that impact a person’s cardiovascular system, like specific diseases. That is a discussion designed for another day.

What Is the Cardiovascular System?

If you are like most men and women, you have some understanding of what is meant by the cardiovascular system. If you are also like many individuals, you may inaccurately include or exclude some bodily mechanisms from the cardiovascular system. 

The world-renowned Cleveland Clinic provides a useful, accessible definition and explanation of the cardiovascular system:

Your heart and many blood vessels in your body make up your cardiovascular system or circulatory system. Your heart uses the far-reaching, intricate network of blood vessels to deliver oxygen and other necessary things to your whole body. This network also removes the things your body doesn’t need and takes them to organs that can get rid of the waste. Your blood carries the oxygen, nutrients, and waste through your entire body.

Common Age-Related Changes in the Cardiovascular System

The most commonplace age-related change to the cardiovascular system is stiffening of blood vessels and arteries, according to the Mayo Clinic. This stiffening forces the heart to work harder to pump blood throughout a person’s body. These age-related changes can enhance the prospects for high blood pressure, which is also known as hypertension. It can cause other types of cardiovascular problems or issues as well. 

Structural changes to the heart itself also occur as an individual ages. Specific changes in the heart include:

  • Heart muscle increases in size
  • Heart chambers increase in size and thicken
  • Heart cells increase in size and thicken

These changes particularly occur in the left ventricle of the heart. The left ventricle is primarily responsible for pumping blood throughout the body. The heart ultimately can become somewhat less effective at getting blood throughout a person’s body as that individual ages. 

How to Promote Heart Health

As you grow older, there are steps you can (and should) take to promote heart health. We discuss the primary tactics to employ to enhance your overall heart health as you grow older and enter your Golden Years:

  • Include physical activity in your daily routine. Examples of what you can consider doing as a means of addition exercise to your daily routine include walking, swimming, or other activities. Consistent moderate physical activity can help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your heart disease risk.
  • Eat a healthy diet. Choose vegetables, fruits, whole grains, high-fiber foods and lean sources of protein, such as fish. Limit foods high in saturated fat and salt.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking contributes to the hardening of your arteries and increases your blood pressure and heart rate. If you smoke or use other tobacco products, ask your doctor to help you quit. Your overall cardiovascular health can improve (and sometimes significantly so) after you quit smoking. 
  • Manage stress. Stress can take a toll on your heart. Take steps to reduce stress, such as meditation, exercise, or talk therapy.
  • Get enough sleep. Quality sleep plays an important role in the healing and repair of your heart and blood vessels. Aim for seven to nine hours a night.

How to Check the Health of Your Cardiovascular System

Once you find yourself in your Golden Years, you definitely want to monitor the overall health of your cardiovascular system. Of course, if you have a diagnosis of some type of disease associated with some aspect of your cardiovascular system, this process should have started previously. 

The Cleveland Clinic identifies the most common ways in which the health of the cardiovascular system can be monitored. Your primary care physician, or a cardiologist, can prescribe testing that is deemed appropriate to your circumstances, medical needs, and health history:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG)
  • Blood tests
  • Echocardiogram (using sound waves to make a picture of the heart and valves)
  • Stress tests (treadmill test, sometimes with imaging)
  • Cardiac CT (using X-rays and a computer to make cross-sectional images)
  • Positron emission tomography (PET) scan (detecting an injected radioactive drug that diseased cells absorb easily and making an image from that)
  • Cardiac MRI (a large magnet and radio waves create images)
  • Angiogram (heart catheterization)

Most Common Cardiovascular Diseases or Conditions

There are a set of cardiovascular diseases or conditions that occur most frequently. These are problems with the heart as well as issues with blood vessels.

The most common heart problems are:

  • Arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm)
  • Heart attack
  • Heart valves that don’t work right
  • Heart failure (weakness in the ability of your heart to pump)

The most common blood vessel problems are:

  • Aneurysm
  • Stroke
  • Atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries)
  • Vascular diseases (diseases involving blood vessels)

If you are over the age of 50, you should arrange for an examination of your cardiovascular health in a manner recommended by your primary care physician annually. If you have experienced some type of cardiovascular issue in the past, your doctor might recommend more frequent monitoring of your overall heart health.