What are the changes that occur with normal aging?

Sharine Forbes
Geriatric Medicine

There are many changes that the human body goes through over the lifespan and the cardiovascular system is no exception. As an individual ages the level of blood increases quicker and reaches a higher climax during strenuous physical exercise. In order to help with the changes in the heart the body adapts itself by increasing the amount of blood it pumps. This is essential in order to keep the cardiac reserve capacity almost the same and make up for the fact that the maximum heart rate decreases over time.

However, there are some age related changes in the cardiovascular system that the body is not able to compensate for.  For example, a normal old adult can develop pulmonary congestion thus causing a reduction in pulmonary functions. This reduction causes them to feel as if they are out of breath quicker when compared to a younger person. Additionally, some age-related changes occur in the heart as its overall texture undergoes some natural changes causing it to utilize more oxygen in order to function. Thus, marking that biological changes in the cardiovascular do occur as an individual ages.  

Mark C. Houston, MD
Internal Medicine
Individuals age at variable rates due to genetic and environmental factors such as nutrition, exercise, stress, smoking and alcohol, and various diseases such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes mellitus.

Regardless of the rate, however, these are the facts: a) the brain shrinks and there is loss of cognitive function, focus, and memory; b) vision worsens with cataracts and loss of visual acuity, darkness, and color perception; c) hearing is impaired especially for higher tones; d) the skin loses elasticity and collagen, begins to wrinkle, thins, and heals slower and bruises easier; e) smell and taste decrease, hair thins, and fat increases as lean muscle mass and bone mass decrease resulting in decrease strength, osteoporosis, and fatigue; f) the kidneys decrease in size and function and the bladder losses its elasticity and capacity resulting in incontinence; g) the heart has contracted about 2 billion times by the age of 50 and the incidence of heart attack and heart failure increase; h) the lungs lose elasticity, and breathing capacity is reduced by over 20%; and i) the pancreas produces less insulin and diabetes mellitus is more common. In addition, men lose testosterone starting at age 30 and women have reductions in progesterone and estrogen after menopause in their 40s and 50s.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.