Although your lifestyle can go a long way toward keeping your heart healthy as you age, some cardiac changes are inevitable. Below, some of the most common things that happen to your heart as you pass through your middle years into your senior ones:

  • A slower heart rate. Your heart may beat more sluggishly as you age due to added tissue and fat deposits in the pathways of your natural pacemaker system.
  • An increase in size. Particularly in the left ventricle, there may be a thickening of the heart wall.
  • Stiffening valves. The heart's valves thicken and stiffen, causing heart murmurs in some people.
  • Thickening of the aorta. The main artery from the heart may become thicker and less flexible, leading to higher blood pressure and more work for the heart.

In fact, the heart of an elderly person has to work harder overall to accommodate the body's demands on it than the heart of a young person. This holds true during daily life activities as well as during strenuous exercise. In fact, according to the National Institutes of Health, our capacity to exercise vigorously declines by half between the ages of 20 and 80, partially due to changes in the heart. Does this mean an 80-year-old can't run marathons? No, but he will almost certainly do it much more slowly than a younger athlete. The rate at which the heart of an 80-year-old pumps blood to his muscles simply cannot match that of a 20-year-old.

Marathoners aside, the typical senior citizen is much more likely to experience a range of cardiovascular problems than he did at a younger age. Heart-related diseases and conditions that are fairly common in older people include angina (chest pain); arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), which can lead to coronary artery disease and heart attacks; congestive heart failure; abnormal heart rhythms; strokes; blood clots; and varicose veins.

What can you do to keep your aging heart as healthy as possible? Plenty! Your diet counts for a lot when it comes to heart health. Avoid processed foods that contain trans fats, such as packaged cakes and cookies, limit your portions of red meat, and load up on produce, lean protein, and whole grains. Make sure you get at least some healthful fats, such as salmon, avocado, and walnuts. Exercise moderately, whether it's walking, swimming, weight training or cycling. And if you smoke, quit as soon as possible.


Source: National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health,