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By better understanding your “heart age,” you can take steps to help keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk for heart disease.
When you think about your heart, what do you picture? Is it a strong muscle that pumps blood throughout the body to provide oxygen and nutrients to every cell in your body? Or is it just an organ pumping blood through tubes? Did you know that there are two types of age-related changes that occur in the heart over time? And that both of these age-related changes can impact your risk for heart disease?
What Is “Heart Age”?
The term “heart age” refers to how old your heart is based on the number of years you’ve lived. The size and shape of a person’s heart change as they get older, and this affects how the heart functions. However, a young age does not always correlate to a perfectly healthy heart. Age-related changes in the heart and blood vessels can cause a person’s heart age to be different from their chronological age.
What Changes Contribute to Heart Age?
Your heart is a muscle that needs regular exercise to stay healthy. However, your heart doesn’t have the endurance of other muscles in your body and begins to weaken as you get older. This weakening of the heart muscle can cause your heart age to increase, even if you’re still relatively young. Common age-related changes that can affect your heart age include:
- Heart muscle weakening due to inactivity: A sedentary lifestyle with a lack of exercise can weaken the heart muscle. This can cause your heart age to increase even if you’re young.
- Slower heart rate: As you age, your heart rate slows down. This can cause the amount of blood your heart pumps each minute. A lower cardiac output can reduce your body’s ability to deliver nutrients and oxygen to your cells, leading to health problems.
- Thickening of capillary walls: The capillary walls are the tiny blood vessels that connect your arteries and veins. As you age, these walls can thicken and stiffen, making it more difficult for nutrients, oxygen, and waste products to pass through.
- Decrease in red blood cell production: Red blood cells are tiny, disk-shaped cells that carry oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. As you get older, you may have a lower number of red blood cells in your body, reducing the amount of oxygen that reaches every cell.
- Reduced klotho protein levels: Klotho is a protein that helps regulate the amount of calcium in your body. Lower levels of klotho can lead to weaker bones and a greater risk of osteoporosis. Lower levels of klotho can also cause your heart age to increase, even if you’re young.
- Lower cardiac output: Your heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout your body. Cardiac output, or the amount of blood that your heart pumps each minute, is a measure of your heart’s health. As you get older, your cardiac output may decrease, which can lead to a number of health problems.
These heart and blood vessels changes can increase a person’s risk for developing health problems such as coronary artery disease, stroke, or congestive heart failure.
How Can You Reduce Your Heart Age?
While some age-related changes in the heart are inevitable, there are things you can do to help reduce your heart age and lower your risk for heart disease.
- Quit smoking
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Limit alcohol consumption
- Eat a healthy diet
- Get regular checkups with your doctor
By making healthy lifestyle choices, you can help keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk for heart disease. This is important for anyone, regardless of their heart age, to ensure that they can live a long and healthy life without the complications associated with heart disease.