As most of us who have lived long enough are aware, the body ages. But the parts of the body have a funny way of not seeming to age at the same rate. Sometimes it happens in the stomach: one day it’s flat, the next it’s bulging. Sometimes it’s in the knees: one day you’re jumping around like a kid, the next day you’re limping and reaching for the Advil.
The heart is aging, too, but often its aging process is not obvious. Let’s take a look at the ages of the heart - and what we can do to ensure its ideal function every step of the way.
Unless a youth has a congenital heart defect or disease, her heart should be highly elastic, pumping and recovering very quickly. The greatest non-congenital heart problems in youth are rheumatic heart disease (which is contracted during fever), and obesity.1 If your child is overweight, take every step possible to reverse it. If your child is otherwise healthy, now is the time to instill heart healthy practices in him or her. Turning your kids on to good nutrition is certainly important, but probably more important is instilling in them a love for and practice of exercise, particularly strength-building, aerobic exercise. Swim lessons, biking, hiking, soccer, running, basketball, tennis…sign them up. Support them. Heck, join them!
20s and 30s
Your heart is roughly the size of your fist, and grows at about the same rate as your fist throughout childhood and adolescence.2 By the time you have stopped growing, your heart has too. During your 20s and 30s, your heart should be full-size and functioning at maximum capacity.
The big challenge in these decades is behavioral: these can be high-stress, busy years. The best long-term thing you can do for your heart is to make some time for both exercise (3 times per week for 40 minutes each session) and mindful relaxation. This doesn’t mean wild parties (though relieving anxiety is a good thing to do), it means achieving some stress-reduction. Good ideas are reading, gardening, artistic activity, etc. Sleeping a good amount is essential, as is practicing proper nutrition - get plenty of fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts.
For women on birth control, remember that birth control can have a cardiovascular effect. Some oral contraceptives have been shown to raise your blood pressure. It is important that you bring this up with your OBGYN and monitor your blood pressure so changes can be made if necessary.3
Your 40s is the decade when some significant changes are happening to your heart, sometimes as a consequence of other activities. For men, the heart attack risk jumps sharply at age 45 (for women, this happens at age 55). Your metabolic rate begins to slide at around 40, meaning you are at increased risk to gain weight and to develop high blood sugar, which can bring on diabetes and other health risks. Monitor these things, and do not take them lightly. If you could have had a hamburger and a couple beers in your 30s and burn it off the next day at the gym, now is the time to switch to salmon and a glass of red wine. Definitely see your physician and get cholesterol and blood pressure checks regularly.
In this decade, many people seek to bolster their nutritional intake with supplements. To recommend a few:
- Magnesium is very important, especially for those under high levels of stress.
- Vitamin D is important for maintaining a healthy weight and helping reduce the risk of osteoporosis and depression.
- Ubiquinol (CoQ10) is essential for the production of cellular energy and cardiovascular health. Around age 40, the body begins to lose the ability to convert CoQ10 into its useable form, Ubiquinol. Therefore, Ubiquinol supplements have become quite popular.
Just as the belly can slacken and hair can thin, your heart goes through visible, measurable aging processes. By your 50s, your heart’s blood vessels are likely to have stiffened somewhat, and the valves may have small leaks. Some of this is normal - like a little rust on a door hinge. But disease—especially atherosclerosis—can exaggerate these problems and cause a real health crisis. It is very important to have regular check-ups with a doctor and it’s crucial that you move. Regular aerobic exercise is recommended, but generally getting the blood flowing is important too. Start taking regular walks. Some office-workers have even taken to standing desks for an hour or more a day.
60s and beyond
In your 60s, hopefully you are maintaining the good habits you have already established. If not, it’s time to start! Use your silver years to take up swimming, tai-chi, or yoga - low impact exercises that can help keep your heart in shape and give you some peace of mind.
In these decades, you should have regular ankle-brachial tests. These tests take the pulse in your feet and can diagnose peripheral artery disease, which is caused by a build-up of plaque in the arteries. If cardiovascular disease is suspected or known, many Americans are being placed on cholsetrol-lowering statin medication. While statins have many benefits, one unfortunate consequence of statin therapy is that it effectively shuts down CoQ10 production, making supplemental Ubiquinol a good choice. You can read more about that in this article about medicines that can deplete CoQ10 levels.
Remember: your heart is your friend. It’s one of the best friends you’ll ever have, and is certainly the closest. Treat it like a friend: take it for a walk, give it some rest, pay attention when it complains, and, if it gets thirsty, buy it a drink.
- World Heart Federation. Types of heart disease observed in children and adolescents. http://www.world-heart-federation.org/press/fact-sheets/cvd-in-children-...
- The Franklin Institute. Development of the Heart. http://learn.fi.edu/learn/heart/development/development.html
- Go Red For Women. First Steps to Prevent Heart Disease and Be Heart Healthy. https://www.goredforwomen.org/live-healthy/first-steps-to-prevent-heart-...