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What Happens to Your Heart as You Age?

Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 23, 2021

Your heart and blood vessels are more susceptible to damage once you reach the age of 65. The changes that happen as you age can increase your risk of heart disease. Heart disease happens when oxygen-rich blood can’t make it to your heart as easily as before. 

As plaque builds up in your coronary arteries, blood flow to your heart muscles is reduced. Luckily, this can be reversed and prevented if the right actions are taken early on. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol intake as you age will help improve your heart health.  

Does Your Heart Change as You Get Older?

Aging hearts. Your heart is a muscle. Over time it can weaken. If you become less active as you age, your heart’s left ventricle becomes stiffer. This means that less oxygen-rich blood is being pumped out to your body.

An older heart rests at a lower heart rate compared to when you were younger. This means that your heart rate doesn’t increase as much during exercise. This can lead to thicker artery walls and less elastic tissue in them.

As a result of this, your blood pressure does not stabilize as quickly. Do you feel dizzy or faint when you stand up too quickly? These can be signs that your heart is changing.

Heart Risks to Know About as You Age

As you get older, you become more at risk for other heart problems. These conditions may have similar symptoms. They can be difficult to identify unless diagnosed by a doctor and can include: 

Atherosclerosis. This condition develops when plaque builds up on the inner walls of your arteries. They eventually harden and narrow the arteries. This can limit oxygen-rich blood flow to other parts of your body and organs. Aging and high blood pressure increase the risk of this condition. 

Angina. This condition is identified by a tight feeling in your chest. It may be brought on by physical or emotional stress. This is a more frequent symptom in older adults. It can feel similar to a heart attack but isn’t dangerous. However, it can be a symptom of the beginning of a heart condition. 

Heart failure. Characterized by shortness of breath, fatigue, and swollen legs this condition can be fatal in older adults. This happens when your heart is no longer able to pump blood properly. Heart failure can happen slowly over time and worsen as you get older. Preventative measures like healthy lifestyle choices are the best way to reverse the onset of this condition.

Other symptoms that can indicate heart disease include: 

  • Intense chest pain
  • A feeling of doom
  • Unexplained fatigue
  • Sudden change in your ability to exercise 
  • Heart palpitations
  • Confusion and dizziness

If you experience these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention. 

How to Manage Heart Health After 50

Make healthy choices. The risk of heart disease can be lowered by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. The American Heart Association (AHA) has identified ways to maintain ideal cardiovascular health. These lifestyle choices can help you improve your heart health:

  • Be physically active for at least 30 minutes each day. Do this 5 or more days per week. 
  • Don’t smoke tobacco. 
  • Eat a healthy diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. Limit your intake of processed or fast foods. 
  • Try to maintain a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 25. 

Everyone's health is different. A variety of factors determine your particular risk and likelihood of developing heart disease and other heart problems. However, following these guidelines and making heart-healthy choices can reduce your risk posed by external factors. 

Exercise. It’s never too late to start improving your heart health. Physical exercise is a great first step to a better heart. Running alone has been shown to lower blood pressure and increase blood flow to your heart. Together with the AHA's tips listed above, physical exercise can help you to effectively manage your heart health after 50. 

When to See Your Doctor

Anyone over the age of 50 should be cautious about these heart-related symptoms

  • Feeling out of breath
  • Abnormally fatigued
  • Experiencing rapid, slow, or irregular heartbeats
  • Having pain or discomfort in the left side of your left chest
  • Extreme dizziness 

Seek immediate medical attention if you are having any of these symptoms. They may be a sign of a serious heart condition that requires proper diagnosis and quick treatment. 

Even if you are unsure about the cause of your pain or heart irregularities, it’s best to talk to your doctor about them. Waiting too long to resolve heart problems can be dangerous or lethal. 

Show Sources

SOURCES:

Circulation: “Aging and Diseases of the Heart.”

Cleveland Clinic: “How You Can Keep Your Heart From Aging Prematurely.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Get moving to slow cardiovascular aging.”

Journal of the American Geriatrics Society: “Relationship Between Ideal Cardiovascular Health and Disability in Older Adults: The Chilean National Health Survey (2009-10).”

MERCK MANUAL: “Effects of Aging on the Heart and Blood Vessels.”

National Institute on Aging: “Heart Health and Aging.”

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