We often think that the age of our heart is the same as our biological heart, but that's not true," say scientists. As a rule, the heart is 5-10 years older than we are, and there is an explanation for this. Smoking, frequent alcohol consumption, high blood pressure and high cholesterol in the blood lead to degeneration and thickening of blood vessels, which wears out the heart. Despite the importance of genetics, more and more researchers agree that the youthfulness and endurance of the heart is directly related to lifestyle. How to keep your heart young with simple and healthy habits to avoid premature aging of the "living motor"?
How to find out the real age of your heart?
Our heart is aging faster than we are, scientists say. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC, 50 percent of men and 20 percent of women have a heart that is five years older than their chronological age.
An aging heart is more likely to have stiffer, calcified arteries, thickened muscle tissue, abnormalities in the conduction system and dysfunctional valves, according to cardiologist Vikas Sander, MD.
U.S. experts suggest a modern way to assess overall cardiovascular risk is to use the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology's Cardiovascular Risk Calculator. To determine the baseline risk of developing cardiovascular disease within 10 years, the online tool uses basic health indicators - blood pressure, blood cholesterol levels, bad habits, and predisposition to diabetes.
What influences premature aging of the heart?
Lifestyle, medical history, and genetic predisposition to cardiovascular disease can help your doctor determine the approximate age of your heart. While some of these cannot be changed, most of these factors can and should be managed, experts say.
The major risk factors for heart aging, experts say, include:
- Chronological age: the risk of cardiovascular disease begins to increase after age 55, as blood vessels lose their elasticity and begin to harden, and plaque accumulated during this time in the arteries begins to interfere with blood flow.
- Gender: Men get cardiovascular disease about 10 years earlier than women. Doctors attribute this to the activity of the hormone estrogen in women during childbearing age. After menopause, their risk of cardiovascular disease also increases.
- Genetic predisposition: if your father was diagnosed with cardiovascular disease before age 55 and your mother before age 65, you have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Bloodpressure: blood pressure above 120/80 mmHg leads to an aging heart.
- Blood cholesterol levels: the higher they are, the older your heart is.
- Smoking can lead to a heart attack, even if it happens infrequently. Passive smoking also increases the risks of CVDs.
- Body weight: being overweight or obese makes your heart fatigued.
- Diabetes or prediabetes puts you at greater risk for heart problems.
"We know that the number one way to prevent cardiovascular disease such as atherosclerosis, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation is to maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout your life!" shares Dr. Sander.
Top healthy habits from cardiologists for a young heart
The first thing to realize is that it is never too late to start taking care of your heart health, say experts. Even if you are already at a venerable age, you can always reduce your risk factors. To keep your heart young, take care of these healthy habits:
Being mindful of chronic diseases or conditions
Keeping your blood pressure within normal limits can minimize your risk. The same goes for diabetes and high cholesterol. Thyroid disease, as well as long-term use of certain medications, can weaken your heart.
Look for movement, be active at all times
Your heart needs exercise, called cardio, to function healthily. Exercise increases the heart's pumping power and helps deliver oxygen throughout the body. Regular exercise also helps control weight, blood pressure and reduces stress. If your health condition doesn't allow you to play too active sports, take care of moderate exercise: it can be walking or special therapeutic exercises.
"We recommend devoting at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, such as doubles tennis or brisk walking," says Dr. Sander.
Stick to a healthy and balanced diet
Another way to take care of your heart on a daily basis is to eat delicious and healthy foods. In fact, there are quite a few heart-healthy foods that can keep your cholesterol and blood pressure levels balanced. Fresh vegetables, fruits, dried fruits, lean protein and healthy fats (nuts, vegetable fats, fish), whole grains will only benefit your body.
Dr. Sander also recommends avoiding trans fats and moderating saturated fats, salt and sugar.
Give up smoking
To protect your heart from premature aging, it's a necessity, experts assure. Tobacco is highly addictive and it is extremely difficult to quit smoking. One of the most common complications of long-term smoking is spasm of the heart vessels, which can result in myocardial infarction, - say the researchers.
The chemicals in cigarette smoke damage the heart and blood vessels, making it more likely that you will develop atherosclerosis or plaque buildup in your arteries.
Consume as little alcohol as possible
Reducing your alcohol intake will also keep your heart functioning healthily. Scientists have linked high blood pressure, cardiomyopathy, and an increased risk of stroke to excessive alcohol consumption. If you still find it difficult to give up your favorite drinks, doctors recommend the following, safer doses:
- for men 2 servings of alcohol per day: this is approximately either 2 glasses of wine (500-600 ml), or one can of beer, or 60-80 ml of cognac, rum, whiskey.
- Forwomen, 1 serving of drink: a glass of wine (300-400 ml) or 50 ml of cognac, tequila, gin, or half a can of beer.
Get regular checkups
Experts recommend at least once a year to be examined by a cardiologist, check blood pressure, triglycerides, glucose and cholesterol levels on an empty stomach. This way, your doctor can help detect heart problems before they cause any serious problems.
Don't ignore unusual symptoms
Regular checkups are necessary, but it's also important to listen to your body when it tells you something is wrong. These symptoms can signal the onset of cardiovascular disease:
- shortness of breath;
- swelling of the legs;
- chest pain;
- loss of energy, unexplained fatigue;
- sudden change in tolerance to habitual physical activity;
With each passing year, our heart needs extra care and attention. To keep it young and healthy, it is important to consciously develop healthy habits, listen to your body, be active and cheerful. By reducing your stress levels, giving up bad habits and alcohol, as well as fatty, unhealthy foods, you further support the health and endurance of your heart.