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Effects of Aging on the Heart and Blood Vessels

By

Jessica I. Gupta

, MD, Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan;


Michael J. Shea

, MD, Michigan Medicine at the University of Michigan

Last full review/revision Apr 2019| Content last modified Apr 2019
Click here for the Professional Version

During rest, the older heart functions in almost the same way as a younger heart, except the heart rate (number of times the heart beats within a minute) is slightly lower. Also, during exercise, older people's heart rate does not increase as much as in younger people.

The walls of the arteries and arterioles become thicker, and the space within the arteries expands slightly. Elastic tissue within the walls of the arteries and arterioles is lost. Together, these changes make the vessels stiffer and less resilient. Since the arteries and arterioles are less elastic, blood pressure cannot adjust quickly when people stand, and older people are at risk for dizziness or in some cases fainting when they stand up suddenly.

Because arteries and arterioles become less elastic as people age, they cannot relax as quickly during the rhythmic pumping of the heart. As a result, blood pressure increases more when the heart contracts (during systole)—sometimes above normal—than it does in younger people. Abnormally high blood pressure during systole with normal blood pressure during diastole is very common among older people. This disorder is called isolated systolic hypertension High Blood Pressure High blood pressure (hypertension) is persistently high pressure in the arteries. Often no cause for high blood pressure can be identified, but sometimes it occurs as a result of an underlying... read more High Blood Pressure .

Many of the effects of aging on the heart and blood vessels can be reduced by regular exercise Exercise in Older Adults At least 75% of people over age 65 do not exercise at recommended levels despite the known health benefits of exercise including Longer survival Improved quality of life (for example, endurance... read more . Exercise helps people maintain cardiovascular fitness as well as muscular fitness as they age. Exercise is beneficial regardless of the age at which it is started.

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