About Your Heart Age. . .

Yet another cardiac risk calculator

Older woman hugs heart
David Jakle/Getty Images

In September, 2015 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) launched a new initiative to raise Americans’ awareness of their cardiac risk, which they have labelled the Heart Age. The CDC’s new on-line calculator (which you can find here) purports to tell you how old your cardiovascular system is, based on certain risk factors.

Your Heart Is Too Old

The “heart age” is a construct derived from the Framingham Risk Score, which estimates your 10-year risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The heart age calculator looks at what your 10-year risk “should be” based on your age alone, and compares it to your calculated 10-year risk based on both your age and additional risk factors. Unless you have no additional risk factors, this latter estimate will be higher than the former. The calculator then estimates how many years this “extra” risk may cost you, adds that to your chronological age, and calls that your heart age.

Knowing that your heart is “older” than your actual chronological age, CDC officials believe, will more likely motivate you to lose weight, exercise, stop smoking and eat healthier.

To help publicize their new risk calculator, the CDC published a study showing that only 30% of Americans have a heart age that is equal to or below their actual age. On average, the CDC informs us, Americans’ “heart age” is 7.8 years (men) and 5.4 years (women), above their chronological ages.

The message: Our hearts are too old, and we should do something about it.

Is This A Gimmick?

Yes, “heart age” is a gimmick. It is simply a mathematical construct derived from the Framingham Risk Score - a slightly different way of looking at the same data - and giving it catchier name.

You see, the CDC and the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology and the European Society of Cardiology have all published numerous cardiac risk calculators over the past 15 years. All of these calculators are supposed to goose us into an awareness that our lifestyles are making us more likely to experience heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral artery disease, so that we’ll do something about it. Most of us haven’t paid any attention.

The “heart age” is the latest attempt by our public health experts to get us to pay attention.

And perhaps it will. A 2015 study in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology suggests that people who learn their “heart age” are more likely to make favorable lifestyle changes than people who merely learn their 10-year risk. So, gimmick or not, it’s worth a try.


Lopez-Gonzalez AA, Aguillo A, Frontera M, et al. Effectiveness of the Heart Age tool for improving modifiable cardiovascular risk factors in a Southern European population: a randomized trial. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. March 2015; vol 22-3; 389-396.

Yang Q, Zhong Y, Ritchey M, et al. Vital Signs: Predicted heart age and racial disparities in heart age among U.S. Adults at the state level. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. (on line) September 1, 2015. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm64e0901a1.htm Accessed 9-3-2015.

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