U-M Researcher Addresses Changes In The Heart As It Ages

ANN ARBOR---To stave off heart disease, one should understand how the heart changes as it ages, because heart disease doesn't occur suddenly. It's a progression that occurs over time and is influenced by gradual changes that weaken the heart.

These changes begin early in life with arterial stiffening in the teen years. By age 20, your maximum heart rate begins to slow by one beat a year and by age 30, you begin to produce less of a protein that regulates how long each beat lasts, which means your heart must work harder on each beat to keep up its normal output.

"Aging itself is not a disease and it is not unhealthy to age, but it does place some limitations on the heart. Those limitations cannot be reversed, but they can be attenuated. You can't make an old heart look like a young heart, but you can make an old heart look younger," said Marvin O. Boluyt, assistant research scientist with the University of Michigan Division of Kinesiology. Boluyt is co-author of "Cardiovascular Aging in Health," a chapter in the newly published book "Advances in Organ Biology," edited by E. Edward Bittar.

Published by JAI Press of Stamford, Conn., "Advances in Organ Biology" is a collection of chapters by scientists specializing in heart failure. The book focuses on new advances that have been made in defining one aspect of heart disease: the changing metabolism.

Boluyt and co-author Dr. Edward G. Lakatta, chief of the Laboratory of Cardiovascular Science at the Gerontology Research Center in Baltimore, examine the normal changes the heart goes through in the aging process. The changes---such as reduced protein levels that slow the heartbeat---aren't threatening by themselves.

However, coupled with a history of illness and a sedentary lifestyle, these changes in the heart could throw a healthy, but stressed, heart into turmoil.

There are primarily two ways your heart changes with age: everyday wear and tear (such as by disease and hormonal changes

Contact: Amy Reyes
University of Michigan

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