Early Heart Disease Prevention Key to Successful Aging

Updated: 
December 06, 2017

Your heart is a hard worker indeed. It beats about 100,000 times a day; more than 2.5 billion times during a typical lifespan. No wonder that the heart is vulnerable to wear and tear as we age. Gradual changes to the structure and function of the heart and the blood vessels leading to the heart predispose us to high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, and eventually, heart failure or stroke.

The incidence of both heart disease and stroke increases sharply after age 65. Four out of ten deaths among people aged 65 to 74 is caused by heart disease or stroke; and six out of ten people aged 85 or older die from one of these two conditions.  Women are particularly vulnerable, they have a 32% lifetime risk of developing coronary heart disease after age 40. This risk increases sharply after menopause, possibly, because women at that point in life lose the protective effect of estrogen.

There are many good reasons to prevent heart disease other than just to live longer. Heart disease isn’t just a leading killer, it also causes disability, limiting mobility and negatively impacting quality of life as we get older.

While you can’t prevent aging, there’s a lot you can do to avoid heart disease, including, of course, exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet. And, according to new research, the earlier you start, the better. Studies have shown that people who show no of the typical risk factors for heart disease at the age of 50 have a very low lifetime risk of ever developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), and if they do develop it, they are more likely to survive. In one study, 50-year-old women with optimal risk-factor levels had a substantially lower lifetime risk of CVD than those with two or more risk factors. 

In short, when it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease, the best time to start is long before you develop the typical precursors of CVD, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and atherosclerosis. Prevention efforts that begin at midlife or even decades before will vastly improve your chances of enjoying a healthy old age.

Getting regular physical activity, including a moderate to vigorous yoga practice, of course, is one key to avoiding the early stages of heart disease from developing. The heart is a muscle, and like all muscles, it needs regular activity to stay strong and healthy.

If you’re already at midlife and show one or two early risk factors for heart disease, however, don’t despair. Research has shown that both a regular yoga practice and meditation doesn’t just offer natural prevention for heart disease by e.g. lowering high blood pressure and reducing stress. According to several studies, using yoga as therapy in heart disease patients can even reverse the progression of heart disease. Similar results have been shown with certain forms of meditation.