Straight, No Chaser: Life Begins (To End) at 40 (Unless It Doesn’t) – The Cardiopulmonary (Heart and Lung) System
The fourth part of this series looks at your heart and lungs. One thing the heart and lung share in common is, left to their own devices, they could function normally for much longer than typically ends up occurring. It’s important to discuss because heart disease is the most common cause of death in people 65 and over, and it is also the most frequent cause of activity limitations. Let’s quickly review changes, challenges and solutions.
Heart Changes: Coronary artery disease increases as your activity declines. Blockages accumulate on the inside of your arteries, and they harden as they lose their elasticity. Both of these factors resulting in lessened blood flow. High blood pressure increases with age, independently and as a result of this.
Lung Changes: The air sacs, airways, and tissues lose elasticity and become more rigid with age. In general however, serious disease notwithstanding, the respiratory system can serve one well throughout a very long life. However, if you’re a smoker or have lung disease (e.g. asthma, COPD), the reversible damage to the lungs starts becoming irreversible about age 35. At that time, you in effect begin tearing out useful lung tissue, which diminishes your respiratory capacity and sets you up for chronic bronchitis and cancer, as the body attempts to repair this damage and does so incorrectly.
Challenges: In the absence of structural disease or continuing to expose yourself to toxins (e.g. cigarettes), the effects of these changes on our health status need not be severe. The social implications of the effects of normal changes due to aging often would not hamper reasonable normal functioning. The real challenge is to avoid inhaling toxins that will harm you (duh, right?).
Solutions: This is much simpler than you’d think and mostly involves prevention. The biological changes can be greatly diminished and held off by a regular, strenuous exercise regimen that causes deep breathing and elevation of your heart rate over a period of time and by avoidance of toxins, especially cigarette smoke and fatty foods. Your heart and lungs are well situated for the long haul in the absence of bad genes and bad habits.
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