While most of us likely believe that our chronological age applies to our heart, researchers have recently discovered that this is not the case. Less than 2 years ago, a new heart health concept emerged in the cardiovascular medical community known as “heart age”, which is a simplified way for cardiologists to identify your risk for developing disease. It is also an easy way for patients to understand their risk as it relates to heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular events.
The heart age concept determines the age of your heart based on various health indicators and heart disease risk factors including blood pressure, smoking history, body mass index and whether you have diabetes or not. You may be in your 30’s, but based on these indicators and various lifestyle choices, your heart could actually be the equivalent of 40 or older. According to studies performed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) last year, 3 out of 4 Americans have a heart age that is greater than their chronological age.
In the CDC studies, researchers used data from every state in the country to estimate the heart ages of people without any prior heart attacks or strokes. The data showed that the majority of men have a heart age 8 or more years higher than their actual age. And half of women have a heart age 5 or more years higher than their actual age.
As physicians, we are hopeful that this sort of information will motivate our patients to begin and continue lifestyle changes that improve heart age and health. The most important thing to know is that you can decrease the age of your heart by choosing to eat healthier, stopping smoking, lowering salt consumption, controlling your blood pressure and increasing the amount of physical activity in which you engage each day.
To further emphasize your ability to positively affect the age of your heart, one CDC study illustrated the impact of just 2 of the risk factors – smoking and blood pressure. The research concluded that stopping smoking for only 1 year reduces heart age by 14-15 years. And reducing blood pressure for a 12-month period reduces heart age by 6-10 years. If a patient accomplishes both, heart age is lowered by a total of 19-23 years. These are dramatic improvements achieved by addressing only 2 risk factors. If cholesterol and diabetes are also controlled, the impact on heart age is even more dramatic.
It is fairly simple to determine the current age of your heart and we encourage all of our patients as well as our readers here to do so with the “Heart Age Calculator” developed by the CDC as a result of their extensive research. To use the calculator, you will need to know your height, weight, blood pressure reading and body mass index.
Height– if you do not know your height, stand in bare feet with a straight back against a door frame and have someone measure from the floor to the top of your head.
Weight– use your most current weight.
Blood pressure reading – use a recent blood pressure measurement from a doctor’s visit or use one of the available blood pressure readers at a local retail pharmacy to obtain it. You will need the systolic measurement which is the top number of the reading.
Body mass index (BMI) – this measures your body fat based on age, height and weight. If you go to www.health.harvard.edu/bmi, there is a BMI calculator that will produce your BMI in a few seconds.
Heart age calculator – once you have the 4 pieces of information above, go to www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/cardiovasculardisease/heartage.html where you will input them and click “calculate” to be able to see your heart age.
If you discover that your heart is older than you, know that you are not alone and that the modifications in lifestyle we outlined will make significant improvements in your heart age and heart health in a very short period of time.
To learn more about the age of your heart, log on to vascularhealthclinics.org.