As we age, our bodies go through several changes, including changes in our cardiovascular system.
Many of these changes are not very obvious to the person living with them, but they can quickly bring on a cascade of negative effects for our health, increasing our risk of heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions.
Changes in Cholesterol Levels
Cholesterol is a type of fat that our bodies use to build cells and produce hormones.
When we get older, our bodies may produce more cholesterol or become less efficient at removing it from the bloodstream. This can lead to a buildup of plaque in the arteries, which can increase the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Buildup of Plaque in Arteries
Your arteries are the blood vessels that carry oxygen and nutrients to your heart and the rest of your body.
If your cholesterol levels are not well regulated, this will likely cause a buildup of waxy plaque on the walls of your arteries, making it more difficult for blood to flow through.
This can significantly increase the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases.
The plaque buildup can also cause the arteries to become narrower, which can also lead to decreased blood flow to vital organs like the heart and brain.
Stiffening of Arteries
Our arteries are designed to be elastic, allowing them to expand and contract with each heartbeat to accommodate the flow of blood.
However, if your arteries become thick, stiff, and inflexible due to the buildup of plaque, they may not be able to expand and contract as needed to regulate blood flow.
This condition is called atherosclerosis.
When this happens, your blood pressure will rise, and your risk of a heart attack, stroke, or organ failure will increase.
Increased Blood Pressure
Blood pressure is the force of blood against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps it through the body.
This is often related to the stiffening of the arteries and the buildup of plaque in the arteries.
When blood pressure is too high (a condition called hypertension), this can cause damage to delicate blood vessels and the delicate organ tissues they supply with nourishing blood.
Decreased Heart Function
Your heart is a muscle. As you get older, your muscles—including the heart—tend to weaken and become less efficient. This can reduce the amount of blood it can pump with each beat.
This can lead to heart failure (especially when combined with atherosclerosis), a condition in which your heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of your body.
Increased Risk of Heart Disease
These changes and more all tend to increase our risk of developing heart disease, including coronary artery disease, heart attack, and heart failure.
Heart disease is a leading cause of death in older adults, so it’s essential to take steps to maintain our heart health as we age.
Regular check-ups with a healthcare provider can also help identify and manage any potential heart health concerns before they become more serious. They will help you monitor and manage your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and other important risk factors for heart disease.
Additionally, you should aim to maintain a healthy diet, exercise regularly, manage stress levels, quit smoking, and manage any other health conditions like diabetes that may influence your heart health.