Change starts young
Even younger adults can experience changes to the cardiovascular system associated with age. Changes to the heart and blood vessels may start as early as age 20. These may include changes to the shape of the heart, thickening of blood vessels or a change in the heart rate.
Your circulatory system has a direct impact on your health. Your heart pumps blood around the body through a network of veins and capillaries which deliver oxygen and nutrients to your organs, and extract carbon monoxide. Any problems with circulation will have a direct impact on your health.
Some of the changes that can negatively impact our circulation are lifestyle or health related. But ageing also plays a part and can affect your circulatory system in many different ways:
When we’re younger, our arteries and capillaries have more elasticity, meaning they can cope well with stretching and adapting to maximise the efficiency of our blood flow. In the elderly, these conduits get fatigued and damaged, making it harder for the heart to pump blood through them efficiently. Arteries and capillaries may also stiffen (calcify) and thicken over time.
As the heart continues to try to provide our organs with the nutrients they need, it needs to work harder to pump blood effectively through these smaller and less flexible channels. This can put extra strain on the heart. It can also lead to an increase in blood pressure.
With a busy lifestyle, medical conditions, or ageing, we may find it harder to exercise. Low activity levels may contribute to poor circulation.
According to the British Geriatrics Society “half of all people with diabetes in the United Kingdom are aged over 65.” We become more prone to type 2 diabetes as we age, as our bodies become less tolerant to glucose (although according to the National Library of Medicine it is not clear whether this is due to biological ageing or environmental/lifestyle factors). ‘Islets’ on our pancreas that release insulin to lower blood glucose may also stop functioning as well as we get older. Diabetes can affect our circulation as high glucose levels may lead to fatty deposits forming within your blood vessels restricting blood flow.
As our arterial system becomes less elastic and our arteries thicken, our heart has to work harder to pump blood around the system. High blood pressure is more common as we get older.
Changes to our metabolism are thought to increase the chance of weight gain as we age. This can, in turn, have a negative effect on circulation.
How poor circulation affects our overall health
As well as the more serious problems, having poor circulation can affect how we feel in a number of ways.
As the blood flowing through our system is responsible for bringing nutrients and oxygen to our muscles and organs, any problems with circulation can have an impact on how we feel.
Poor circulation can make you feel tired or can cause physical changes such as hair loss. You may notice coldness or discolouration in your hands and feet, or notice that any cuts or grazes don’t heal as well as you’d expect.
The good news
While we can’t reverse the ageing process, we can improve our overall health and wellbeing to avoid or minimise the risk of some of the lifestyle factors that may exacerbate the problem.
Exercising more regularly, making sure we see our GP if we’re worried about diabetes and improving our diet if necessary should all help to improve our overall health, and minimise the risk of additional circulatory problems.
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