Most people assume their age says a lot about the state of their health. For example, you would assume someone who is 60 would have a longer life expectancy than someone who is 70. But many years of research on cardiovascular health suggests that our chronological age is not a great predictor of heart health. To help people assess their own heart health and take steps to improve it, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a new tool that estimates an individual’s heart age.
Having a healthy heart is one of the major keys to a long and pain free life. But lifestyle factors that are common in our current culture, such as smoking, overeating, and the lack of physical activity, take a considerable toll on cardiovascular health. According to new data, 75% of Americans have an estimated heart age that surpasses their chronological age, increasing their risk of heart attack or stroke. The CDC’s tool predicts heart age based on risk factors, which include:
- High blood pressure
- Cigarette smoking
- Diabetes status
- Obesity, as measured by body mass index
The report shows that heart age varies by race and ethnicity, gender, region of the country one lives in and other socio-demographic characteristics. Researchers developed the heart age calculator using data from all 50 U.S. states as well as the Framingham Heart Study. They found among Americans age 30 to 74, almost 69 million have a heart estimated to be older than they are.
“Too many U.S. adults have a heart age years older than their real age, increasing their risk of heart disease and stroke,” says Tom Frieden, MD, CDC director. “Everybody deserves to be young—or at least not old—at heart.”
The report found:
- On average, the heart age of males surpasses their actual age by 8 years. Women have hearts that are, on average, 5 years older than they are.
- All racial and ethnic groups experience advanced heart age, but African-Americans are most affected, with hearts that are an average of 11 years older than their chronological age.
- For both men and women, heart age is impacted negatively as people get older and positively as education and household income rises.
- Location plays a role in estimated heart age. Adults in the southern U.S. are most affected on average.
The good news? Making a few lifestyle changes can, over time, significantly alter your risk of heart disease or stroke, experts say. A good way to start is to learn your heart age at the CDC website.
Talk to your doctor, and make a plan to become healthier.
“Because so many U.S. adults don’t understand their cardiovascular disease risk, they are missing out on early opportunities to prevent future heart attacks or strokes,” says Barbara A. Bowman, PhD, director of CDC’s Division for Heart Disease and Stroke Prevention.