Aging is a risk factor for heart disease, and people aged 65 and older have a much higher risk of heart issues such as heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure. This increased risk may be caused by several factors, including increased arterial stiffness, more plaque buildup on artery walls over time, electrical changes that can lead to arrhythmias, or an increase in the size of the heart as we age.
A recent review published in the Journal of Cardiovascular Development and Disease evaluated risks associated with both age and gender regarding heart health. The researchers found that age is an independent risk factor for heart disease but that the risk is intensified when other factors are present, such as obesity and diabetes. Additionally (and perhaps surprisingly), older women are at a greater risk of heart disease than men of the same age. In people over 80 years old, women have a higher rate of cardiovascular disease diagnoses than men.
In spite of the risks to older people, the CDC has seen an increase in heart disease for younger Americans. Heart disease can occur at any age, and younger people may be experiencing an increased rate of heart disease due to the rising prevalence of factors that lead to heart disease, including obesity, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. According to the CDC, almost 50% of Americans have one or more of the top three risk factors for heart disease, which include smoking, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.
A healthy diet and exercise are our best lines of defense for preventing heart disease both when we are young and as we age. Regular exercise has been well-established as one of the best ways to prevent heart disease, and heart-healthy diets focus on whole grains and vegetables while limiting sodium, added sugar, and red or processed meats. Managing our weight, not smoking, and managing other conditions (like high blood pressure and high cholesterol) will also keep our hearts healthy into the future.
Sources: NIH, Journal of Cardiovascular Development and Disease, CDC, Johns Hopkins Medicine