Chances are, most of us don’t think about our how our heart is working unless something goes wrong. We may even take it for granted that our heart is there with us every second of the day, doing its job like clockwork. As we age, it becomes more important to pay attention to how we are treating our hearts, because a healthy heart is necessary for a long, happy life. We take care to prevent signs of aging in our skin, our hair and other visible areas, but no amount of outward youthfulness can mask a heart that is not functioning at capacity. The good news is that taking care of your heart often means doing all of the healthy things you already do while paying a little special attention to your most important muscle.
The heart has a big job. For most of us, every second of our lives, our hearts are performing their job perfectly. The heart beats around 100,000 times every day, and never asks for a day off or complains that it feels overused. It’s only when lifestyle or genetics interferes with the heart that it begins to lose the capacity to function normally. Especially as we age, the heart has to adapt to the needs of an older body and it will actually begin to perform differently than when we were younger. This is especially apparent in the arteries, whose main job is to deliver blood to your body. Over the years, the arteries accumulate build up due to lifestyle and food choices, and the arteries themselves become less flexible. Changes in the other parts of your heart occur over time, too, including thickening of the ventricle, enlargement of the entire heart, and changes in the valves, the resting heart rate and your heart’s ability to pump.
Preventing heart disease and other heart problems is a lifelong process. One of the most important things you can do for your heart is exercise regularly. It is a muscle, after all, and just like all the other muscles in your body, it becomes stronger through consistent use. Another way to protect your heart is by making smart food choices every day. We’ve all read about foods that are deemed to be “heart healthy,” and incorporating these foods into your diet is a great idea. However, what you don’t eat can be just as important as what you do eat. Avoiding foods heavy in saturated fat and cholesterol could mean the difference between a heart that ages well and a heart that loses its ability to do its job correctly.
Other important things to think about as you actively begin to take anti-aging steps to protect your heart include getting regular checkups and monitoring your blood pressure, heart rate and cholesterol levels. Working with your doctor to manage these early warning signs of heart disease, a leading cause of death in the United States, whether with lifestyles changes, medicine or a combination of both, can ensure your heart continues to keep the beat long into your golden years.