Three out of four American adults have a heart that’s “older” than their years, raising their risk for heart attack or stroke.
Your heart age is based on a risk profile that includes blood pressure, smoking history, diabetes and body mass index.
“Half of U.S. men and nearly half of U.S. women have a heart age that’s five or more years older than their chronological age,” Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a media briefing.
The idea of heart age was created to communicate a person’s risk of dying from heart attack or stroke, and to show how to lower that risk, Frieden said.
Doctors can use risk assessment calculators to aid treatment decisions and encourage patients to adopt healthy habits, he explained.
A 53-year-old woman may learn her heart age is 75. “That’s because she smokes and has uncontrolled high blood pressure,” Frieden said.
Or a 45-year-old man might find out that his heart is 30 years older than he is because he has untreated high blood pressure, smokes and has diabetes.
“For that woman or that man, learning your heart age can be a call to take charge of your health,” Frieden said.
How can you do that?
Maintaining healthy blood pressure, cholesterol levels and body weight, engaging in regular physical activity and not smoking will help turn back the clock, said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, a professor of cardiology at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“Individuals can take proactive steps to reduce their heart age and as a result live longer and healthier lives, free from heart disease and stroke,” Fonarow said.
It’s never too late, Frieden added, noting a 50-year-old smoker who quits can gain 14 years of heart life.
The findings from the new report can also be used to boost heart health among groups at the highest risk of heart attack and stroke, Frieden said.
State and local health departments can help by promoting healthier living spaces, such as tobacco-free areas, more access to healthy food options, and safe places to walk, he said.
For the Vital Signs report, CDC researchers used risk factor data from every state and information from the Framingham Heart Study. Key findings include:
• The average adult man has a heart age eight years older than his chronological age. The average woman’s heart is five years older.
• On average, heart age exceeds chronological age in all racial/ethnic groups. It’s highest among blacks (average of 11 years older for men and women).
• Among men and women, excess heart age decreases with increased education and increased income.
• Heart age differs across states, with Southerners having the oldest hearts. Mississippi, West Virginia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Alabama have the largest percentage of adults with a heart age five years or more over their actual age. Utah, Colorado, California, Hawaii and Massachusetts have the lowest percentage.
“Heart disease and stroke remain leading causes of death, disability and health care expenditures for men and women in the United States,” said Fonarow. “However, the majority of fatal and nonfatal heart attacks and strokes are preventable.”