Signs of Aging May Predict Heart Problems

Ear folds, yellow bumps under your eyes, balding. These may look like the typical changes that come about as you get older, but a recent study by Danish researchers discovered that people who exhibit such visible aging could be at increased risk of poor cardiovascular health. These findings were presented at the American Heart Association meeting in fall 2012.

Aging and Signs of Heart Problems

Before you get too worried about any of these common aging markers, it's important to put these findings into perspective, says Stephen Devries, MD, cardiologist and associate professor at Northwestern's Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute and executive director of the Gaples Institute for Integrative Cardiology. He explains that while many similar studies have found a slight association between outward appearance and heart health, he believes that the connection isn't strong enough to be cause for concern for most people.

More often than not, heart disease is actually a silent problem, he says, but, there are some subtle signs that can indicate poor cardiovascular health.

Common Heart Condition Symptoms

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath and/or palpations with exercise that go away at rest
  • Back pain
  • Erectile dysfunction (caused by narrowing in the arteries all over the body)
  • Severe leg pain that worsens with activity and goes away with rest
  • Yellow deposits under your eyes (a sign of high cholesterol)

Devries points out that the most important way to protect yourself is to pay attention to any symptoms of heart problems and to undergo annual physicals that include having your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked.

Protecting Cardiovascular Health

Devries also stresses the need to be proactive in taking control of your heart health. He says that eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly can make a big difference in helping you prevent cardiovascular problems, in addition to providing a healthy appearance.

"A study reported in the Lancet reveals that following a Mediterranean style diet can reduce heart problem risk by 70 percent," he says. This means incorporating 5 ½-cup servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit into your daily diet, cutting down on meat, eating fish twice a week, and eating whole grains.

Devries adds that if you incorporate 30 minutes of light exercise most days of the week and avoid smoking, you can improve the benefits to an 80 percent reduction of heart problems. Consider the fact that most cholesterol drugs only reduce your risk of cardiovascular  problems by 33 percent, you can see how essential diet and exercise can be in keeping your heart healthy.

Additionally, he points out that these lifestyle choices are not only good for your heart but they may also fight cancer and offer protection against other diseases-as well as keeping you looking healthy.

Stephen Devries, MD reviewed this article.




Devries, Stephen MD, cardiologist and associate professional at Northwestern's Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute and executive director of the Gaples Institute for Integrative Cardiology. Phone interview 12 Dec. 2012.

de Lorgeril, M et al. "Mediterranean alpha-linolenic acid-rich diet in secondary prevention of coronary heart disease." Lancet 343 (8911) (11 June 1994): 1454-9. Web. 17 Dec. 2012.

"Nutrition for Heart Health." Gaples Institute for Integrative Cardiology, N.d. Web. 16 Dec. 2012.

Petrochko, Cole. "AHA: Is Looking Old a Mirror of the Heart?" MedPage Today 8 Nov. 2012. Web. 13 Dec. 2012.