The Aging Heart

As you age, every system in your body ages with you and the heart is no exception. It varies from person to person and there are certain factors that determine how fast aging occurs. Initially your heart slowly increases its function, reaching a peak around age 30. From that time on, there is a natural and normal decrease in the way the heart functions. In general, by age 60 the heart functions at 85% of its peak function, by age 70 it functions at 75% and by age 90 it is 70%. This is a normal process.

There are three main parts of the heart which are affected most by the aging process. The heart itself can become enlarged over time. This can result in Chronic Congestive Heart Failure (CHF). This causes less blood to be pumped out and eventually the heart will back up. If the right side of the heart becomes enlarged, blood backs up into the body and results in swelling into your abdomen and in your legs. If the left side backs up, it results in fluid build-up into the lungs resulting in shortness of breath and lower blood pressure.

The second part of the heart to be affected by age is the electrical system. This “electrical system” allows the heart to beat in a rhythm that pushes the blood to the lungs to get oxygen and then to the rest of the body. With time and age, the electrical system can start to fail and short circuit resulting in the heart beating in different irregular “rhythms” with atrial fibrillation being the most common.

The valves in the heart can also show changes with age. They can either become stiff and narrow (stenosis) or more “floppy” allowing blood to flow backwards in the heart (regurgitation).

It is not surprising that your heart ages as it does a lot of work. If you consider a normal heart rate is around 60 beats per minute, by the age of 80 it has pumped blood out to all of your vital organs 2 BILLION times!

Despite normal physiological aging over time, the good news is you do have control over the aging of your heart with two factors: controlling concurrent diseases and staying active.

You can maintain a “young” heart by carefully monitoring and regulating the following:  weight, salt intake, blood sugar, smoking, drinking and activity levels.

The bottom line is that the heart naturally ages over time, but you have significant control over how fast it ages. Exercise regularly, don’t smoke and follow your doctor’s direction on the prevention and treatment of high blood pressure.

For all questions related to heart health, please visit: or follow Northern Hearts on Facebook and Instagram (@NorthernHeartsThunderBay), where you can become informed with a new posting each Wednesday.

Submitted by Northern Hearts Board Member, Dr.  Andrew Affleck and Program Coordinator Lana Ryder-Methot.