“Heart Age” is the name for the estimated age of a person’s heart and vascular system based on their overall cardiovascular health – or lack of cardiovascular health. Your estimated heart age, when compared to your actual age, is a new and simplified way for cardiologists to show your risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of illness and death in the world, which includes the development of either:
- coronary heart disease (e.g. death from heart disease, myocardial infarction or “heart attack,” and angina or “chest pain”)
- cerebrovascular disease (e.g. ischemic stroke, hemorrhagic stroke, and transient ischemic attack or “TIA”)
- peripheral artery disease (e.g. intermittent claudication)
- heart failure
If the age of your heart is older than your actual age, you are at higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Heart age simplifies the evaluation of heart risk and, hopefully, motivates more people to start and continue heart-healthy lifestyle changes. So, if you are 40 years old and a cardiologist told you that your heart is actually 60 years old – that can grab your attention!
A recent CDC study estimated the difference between estimated heart age and actual age, termed excess heart age, among United States adults 30-74 years old. The estimated heart age was significantly higher than the actual age. Overall, the estimated heart age for men and women was 8 and 5 years older than their actual age, respectively. Interestingly, excess heart age was lowest for men and women in Utah (only, 6 and 3 years older, respectively) and highest in Mississippi (shockingly, 10 and 9 years older, respectively). So, in Mississippi, people’s hearts are a DECADE older than their actual age! Overall, 3 out of 4 Americans had an estimated heart age that was older than their actual age. So, it’s concerning to know that only a small proportion of adults are meeting ideal cardiovascular health goals.
What is the Age of My Heart?
Estimating your heart age is very simple. Before you are able to do the calculation, you need two important heart health measures:
- Systolic blood pressure, which is the “top number” of your blood pressure. You can use a recent blood pressure measurement from a doctor’s visit, from a grocery store or retail pharmacy, or from your own blood pressure machine at home.
- Body mass index (BMI), which is a measure of body fat based on height and weight. You can go to the following link here, to calculate your body mass index.
After you have your systolic blood pressure and body mass index, you can go to the Heart Age Predictor, which will guide you through the process of estimating your heart age. For example, a male who is 30 years old with a systolic blood pressure of 125 mm Hg, no hypertension (high blood pressure), current smoker, no diabetes, and with a body mass index of 22.5 has an estimated heart age of 38 years old. This is 8 years older than his actual age, because of current smoking!
It should be noted that additional heart-healthy lifestyle habits, including lowering salt consumption, increasing physical activity, and eating a heart-healthy diet, play a very important role in reducing cardiovascular disease but are not necessarily included in the heart age calculation.
Can I Change My Heart Age?
What if your heart age is actually older than you are? Well, adopting a heart-healthy lifestyle can reduce your heart age. The recent CDC study found that quitting smoking for one year alone would reduce estimated heart age by 14 years (for males) or 15 years (for females), reducing systolic blood pressure to 120 mm Hg alone would reduce estimated heart age by 6 years (for males) or 10 years (for females), and removing both risk factors would lower estimated heart age by 19 years (for males) or 23 years (for females). These are very dramatic changes with improvements in just two cardiovascular disease risk factors!
There are a number of cardiovascular disease risk factors, including high blood pressure, smoking, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, and being overweight or obese. Major guidelines state that the majority of cardiovascular disease could be prevented by heart-healthy lifestyle changes and adherence to recommended treatments. A recent study showed that if high blood cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, and smoking completely disappeared, 50% of cardiovascular deaths could be prevented. In that study, diabetes, high blood pressure, and smoking were found to be the most important! Another ground breaking study showed that men who don’t smoke, walked or cycled at least 40 minutes a day and exercised at least one hour a week, had a waist circumference under 37.4 inches, drank moderately, and ate a heart-healthy diet had a 86% lower risk of heart attack. It is very clear from recent studies that a heart-healthy lifestyle can make your heart younger!
The use of an estimated heart age is an easy and effective way to understand your individual risk for cardiovascular disease. Hopefully this simple tool will motivate more people to adopt a heart-healthy lifestyle in order to prevent future heart and vascular disease, including strokes. Take control of your health!